3 Secrets of Effective Wellness Programs

A 2013 Aon Hewitt report stated that 85 percent of employers have a wellness and health improvement strategy in place today. But what those strategies look like, how effective they are, and management confidence in them varies greatly. Before you rush into building a health improvement  program or implementing a tobacco cessation incentive, be sure you fully understand the role that prevention plays in promoting better health and improving cost trends. Effective wellness programs have three components: prevention, wellness, and incentives.

An ounce of prevention can improve your bottom line

Health improvement programs that focus just on lifestyle changes are missing out on a key cost-saving measure—preventive care. The National Business Group on Health outlines three major areas of prevention.

  • Prevention to avoid disease before it occurs: Immunizations, lifestyle risk assessments, promotion of healthy behaviors, tobacco cessation
  • Prevention to modify risk: Screenings to catch disease in early stages and treat appropriately
  • Prevention to reduce disability: Treatment to minimize disability and complications caused by disease

Preventive services are considered high-value because when delivered appropriately they are cost effective and they prevent a substantial portion of disease and injury. Your health care partners must be able to effectively track, promote, and deliver preventive care for you to achieve maximum value from your benefits investment. Consider choosing a health plan that eliminates barriers like cost shares for preventive care visits, or costs shares for maintenance drugs and lab tests for chronic condition management. Incent your population to have a primary care doctor and to take an annual health assessment.

In addition, you need to understand what you can do as an employer to support choices that promote better health.

Keeping employees healthy with effective wellness programs

A Harvard University study of 100 peer-reviewed journal articles found that a properly designed wellness program can expect to yield an ROI of $3.27 for every dollar spent on health care cost reductions, and another $2.73 on absenteeism and related costs, after about three years. Do your homework to ensure what you offer will be as effective as possible. Kaiser Permanente (formerly Group Health) offers employers a “Starting a Wellness Program” guidebook that can help.

Promote wellness and prevention with additional incentives

A survey from Fidelity Investments and the National Business Group on Health reports that 90 percent of employers offer wellness incentives. And a systematic literature review of 47 randomized controlled trials found that economic incentives worked an average of 73 percent of the time. Incentives can be both positive and negative, with experts saying that avoiding a penalty has three times the motivation power of attaining a reward.


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