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VOICES FROM THE INDUSTRY: Worksite wellness encourages steps to healthier firm

October 20, 2008

Over the past several years, employers have seen a movement from traditional PPO health plans to consumer-driven health plans, by implementing qualified high-deductible plans such as health savings accounts.

This shift has been viewed by most to have initially lowered overall employer and employee cost, but more importantly, it has gotten the employee more involved in their health care choices.

Fortunately, consumer-driven health care plans are not the only answer in reducing employer costs.

According to the Towers Perrin 2008 Health Care Cost Survey, worksite wellness programs are also playing an important factor in keeping "high-performing" employers' health care costs well below those of "low-performing" employers.

The survey describes high-performing companies as businesses that are proactively managing their health care expenses with consumer-driven benefits, employee education, chronic disease programs and wellness initiatives.

On average, high-performing companies will see total annual health care costs of $8,532 per active employee-16-percent lower than the $10,200 total costs to lowperforming companies.

What is worksite wellness?

It is an organized program intended to assist employees, spouses and children in making voluntary behavior changes that reduce their health risks and enhance their quality of life. One main objective of these programs is to encourage individuals to take preventive measures to avoid the onset or worsening of an illness or chronic disease.

The focus is to educate the members on the benefits of living a healthier life and to have a variety of wellness programs available throughout the year.

Employers need to get involved

An employer's most valuable asset is their employee. Employees are more likely to remain with, and value, a company that values them.

Worksite wellness programs can reduce absenteeism, reduce worker's compensation claims, improve employee morale, and improve on the job productivity.

Just as important, wellness programs can be an effective tool in slowing the growth of an employer's health care cost. Typically, an employer's second or third largest expense is the cost of health insurance, next to payroll.

This is just one reason why more and more employers are embracing wellness programs.

Getting started

Employers should take the following steps to get a wellness program rolling:

Get the commitment and support of your company's CEO, president and senior management.

Implement a wellness committee that includes a diversified representation of your organization to help with the development, implementation and assessment of your wellness program. This committee should typically meet monthly or bimonthly.

Establish an annual operating plan. This should include a mission statement for the program along with specific, measurable, short and long-term goals, objectives, and employee incentives.

Analyze the needs and interest of your employees and family members. Collect the data that will drive your wellness initiatives.

Market and implement the wellness programs to your population. These programs could run for one day, six weeks or for the entire year.

The programs could include, but are not limited to a one-day on-site health fair, a nine-week weight-loss program or walking challenge, an on-site gym or annual discount gym membership, a monthly or quarterly health newsletter, or an employee health-assessment survey with a comprehensive blood screening.

Monitor progress, make necessary changes and evaluate outcomes at the conclusion of every program.

Employers can begin their wellness programs with very little to no cost. Typical annual costs per employee can run fromless than $10 for a minimal program, $11 to $20 for a moderate program, $21 to $40 for medium program with several activities, $41 to $75 for a fairly comprehensive program, and $76 to $200 for a very comprehensive program.

A rule of thumb would be that for every $1 an employer spends, a return on investment could equal $3 or more depending on how comprehensive the program is.

Employers interested in implementing Worksite Wellness need to be committed for the long term. Companies will see very few results in the early stages of implementation; however, they have to keep in mind that a wellness program is an ongoing endeavor that yields greater results long-term.



Carney is vice president for employee benefits at Old National Insurance. Views expresed here are the writer's.
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