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Wellness Programs Keep Workers And Businesses Healthy

Health promotion efforts reduce insurance costs and keep workers feeling fine and fit

Employers are finding that employee wellness programs are just what the doctor ordered. These health management initiatives are designed to keep healthy workers in top form, while helping those with chronic conditions to better manage their illnesses.

See also: AARP Best Employers for Workers Over 50

Wellness programs seem to be working. Companies that provide them say these programs result in lower health care costs and fewer sick days used. Rising health care costs are of major concern to employers of all sizes, as well as employees. According to the Aon Hewitt 2012 Health Care Survey, employer spending on employee health care continues to escalate — an increase of 40 percent over the past six years to an average of $8,000 per employee. At the same time, employee spending on out-of-pocket health care costs continues to climb, increasing 82 percent over the same period; outpacing their average income gains.

Wellness programs also boost employee engagement and productivity and help in recruitment and retention. Wellness initiatives can reduce inpatient admissions and emergency room visits, minimize complications, and improve quality of life.

According to the 2012 Willis Health and Productivity Survey, 60 percent of employers indicated that they have some type of wellness program, an increase of 13 percent from 2010. Additionally, employers are not scaling back — 58 percent indicate they plan to expand their wellness initiatives with programs or resources. It’s not only large firms that are signing on. A 2012 poll of more than 11,700 businesses across industries and of various sizes conducted by United Benefits Advisors revealed that the largest increase and fastest growth in adoption came from organizations with 500 to 999 employees and those with 50 to 99 employees (23.7 percent).

What Do Wellness Programs Cover?

Wellness programs cover a variety of services: health risk appraisals, flu shots, weight-management, smoking cessation and stress reduction programs, onsite fitness centers and health club discounts, Web-based health and fitness tools, and mental health and substance abuse counseling.

Originally, wellness initiatives focused on major illness such as diabetes, asthma, or heart disease. But employers have found that it's smart business to address mental health issues as well. Behavioral health problems are the fifth-leading cause of short-term disability and rank third for long-term disability.

Money Matters

Why would companies want the extra work of managing the health of their workers? Among other reasons, if you can keep employees in the pink, they'll use health care services less, costing businesses less. In the Hewitt poll, two-thirds of companies said that wellness programs helped rein in their health costs by an average of five to 12 dollars per employee, per condition annually. Other statistics put business returns in the range of $1.50 to $17 per dollar invested.

Next page: How wellness programs work. »

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