Insurance 101

Wellness Programs Fuel Good Health

By Dee McFarland, president-elect of Western Reserve Association of Health Underwriters and a benefits consultant with AssuredPartners in Boardman.

Workplace wellness is a $40 billion industry, according to the Global Wellness Institute. This money is invested in programs designed to encourage more healthful lifestyles, curb preventable chronic diseases and reduce health-care costs for employers and employees.

Unhealthful behaviors are responsible for most chronic diseases, cause 70% of all deaths and up to 75% of health-care costs. Lack of physical activity, poor diets and tobacco use are directly responsible for up to 90% of chronic diseases.

Wellness programs are the only cost reduction strategy that directly affects this cost-driver.

A properly implemented and maintained program will provide a positive return on investment over the long term.

More than 100 studies have looked at the financial impact of wellness programs. The ability of a wellness program to reduce health-care costs depends upon its effectiveness. An occasional lunch- and-learn and an annual biometric screening are insufficient to lower health-care spending.

Almost every study on return of investment shows a positive return on a well-implemented wellness program. A recent Harvard study of 22 ROI studies shows a positive 3.27 ROI. Still, the savings and ROI are not immediate and in most cases the wellness program took three years to show a return.

A well-implemented and effective wellness plan should begin with:

  • Senior management buy-in. Creating sustainable positive changes can be a challenge. Therefore it is imperative to have senior management support with the wellness program. Fifty-three percent of employees who do not participate cite a lack of management support. according to HBR.org.

Senior management needs to understand the goals of reducing risks and health-care costs and the relationship these goals have with increased productivity and reduced absenteeism.

  • A comprehensive program designed to serve 70% of employees.The program could include preventive care campaigns, weight loss, nutrition, healthful habit builders, disease management and even stress management.

An ideal way to begin is with a digital platform that allows personalization and leads to health coaching based on employee answers to a risk assessment.

  • A solid communication plan. This requires a multi-level approach, which may include an app, online resources, paper resources and dedicated staff.
  • Good incentives. Short-term initiatives drive long-term goals. Financial incentives will bring an employee in while nonfinancial incentives such as recognition for meeting goals or winning a competition will drive long-term commitment.
  • Community building. One way to ensure success is for the wellness program to become part of the workplace culture. Team building during behavior-change competitions fosters a spirit of wellness and looking out for your fellow employee.

Although the goal of an effective wellness program is to lower health-care costs, the program should also encourage the employees to stay fit, eat well, breathe fresh air and address stress.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.