Reducing Health Care Costs With Wellness Programs
With health care costs projected to continue rising, more organizations have turned to wellness programs as a way to strike a balance between becoming more efficient and offering benefits that will attract top talent.
A Deloitte 2011 "Top Five Total Rewards Priorities Survey" found that over the next one to three years some 60% of consumers who are employed indicated they plan to actively participate in wellness and disease management programs to maximize their health status. Many were concerned with being able to afford health care in retirement and equated the long-term advantages of good health as a sound retirement investment.
According to the CDC, nationally 65% of people are overweight or obese, and many struggle with associated physical conditions such as high blood pressure and cholesterol. In addition, the Wellness Council of America has found that a $1 investment in a wellness program saves $3 in health care costs. At a time when employers are looking for ways to trim the fat off budgets, experts suggested the time may be right for employers to determine if a wellness program is for them.
Last year Xceed Financial Credit Union did the research and responded by offering health incentives to promote their employees well-being.
In creating its wellness program, Xceed challenged its internal "event and promotion committee," called Team Xceed made up of 11 associates from across the organization, to research other wellness programs within and outside the industry. The team then proposed its own program that focused on several core elements that play a role in a person’s overall health: physical fitness, community involvement, environmental "green" efforts, personal development, and weight loss.
Here’s how it works. Points are assigned to all types of activities like running, playing volleyball, volunteering, donating blood, composting at home, taking a college course, cooking healthy or even carpooling to work. Associates log their personal achievements on a daily and quarterly basis, and a cash payout of $300 is awarded to each employee who hits the 1,000-point mark by the end of the year.
In its inaugural year, 128 associates out of 213 participated in the program, with an accumulated point total of 104,603–representing an average of 817 points per person. And 56 associates broke the 1,000-point barrier. Associates are encouraged to send Team Xceed new ideas on how to accrue points and so far the feedback has been very positive. For example, one new associate is a guide-dog volunteer while another is part of a rowing club and those activities were then added to the online activity report.
The program also offers printed information on wellness tips on Xceed’s intranet and in the associate newsletter. In 2011, the credit union also hosted its first-ever health fair that included 28 vendors. Staffers at the corporate headquarters were able to meet one-on-one and learn more about their benefits and options for a healthier lifestyle.
"It feels good to contribute to the health and well-being of our associates," said Teresa Freeborn, Xceed Financial president/CEO. "We want to do all we can to help stabilize insurance costs, which is why we’ve invested in our own custom wellness program. Any reduction in insurance fees could then be passed on to our associates."
According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, it now costs employers an estimated $13,000 annually to provide premium health care benefits to a typical employee and his or her dependents, and that figure has gone up 10% each year for the past decade. Of that annual amount, almost $10,000 is paid by the employer, and overweight and obese employees incur more than $1,500 in additional costs for the employer each year. Faced with those numbers some have also turned to vendors such as IncentaHEALTH as a way to supplement existing wellness programs.
IncentaHEALTH programs include cash incentives to those who lose weight or maintain a healthy weight. According to Todd McGuire, incentaHEALTH chief operating officer, wellness programs are a win-win for all parties.
"The key to any successful program is having that executive support who understands they need to take a long range view," said McGuire.