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Employers find value in wellness

Amanda McGrory  - BenefitsPro

As health care costs continue to rise and health care reform is causing more companies to examine their options, wellness programs are becoming more popular among employers. Wellness programs allow employers to better control their costs by teaching employees to make more informed decisions regarding their health, and when the work force is healthier, premiums are subsequently lower.

Take, for instance, the health care costs for the staff and faculty at Bryant University in Smithfield, R.I. Each year Bryant University had seen double-digit health care cost growth during its renewal phase, says Linda Lulli, associate vice president for human resources, at Bryant University. The university’s premiums were annually spinning out of control, and it was time to start better managing costs.

“We took the approach of creating a culture of health by better understanding where our major areas of costs were,” Lulli says. “We believe if we can impact the health of our employees and impact their family choices, then we ultimately can impact the community’s health. Clearly, that does have an overall impact of cost for health care.”

In fact, according to the Health and Wellness Institute, for every point reduction of an individual’s body mass index, there is approximately a $200 associated cost reduction in health care each year. When Bryant University’s human resources department examined those figures, it discovered the school could receive a 3.7 percent return on investment by properly managing its employees’ health.

Group activities encourage participation

For many employees, offering wellness programs based around group participation increases engagement and the success rate, Lulli says. A group environment instills a sense of competition and camaraderie, which boosts employee morale and adds an extra incentive to keep pushing.

“In our experience, what we’ve found to be most effective have been group activities, where people can support each other,” Lulli says. “People get competitive, and they tend to push each other.”

To encourage group participation, the HR department has established Shape Up Bryant University, a walking program designed for employees to exercise together. Employees form competitive teams in which they can count steps, examine nutrition habits and monitor weight loss. The results are awarded on a point system, which is paid out to employees to use for premium costs, and this effort, Lulli says, has proven to be effective for Bryant University.

Of course, with group wellness programs, sometimes it can be difficult finding options for everyone, Lulli notes. Exercise levels vary from employee to employee, which makes it important for an HR department to offer a range of options for the most engagement.

“For people who are not as active, we’ve had yoga classes, zumba classes, tai chi classes and smoking cessation programs.” Lulli says. “We try to incorporate various kinds of programs that are appropriate for different levels of exercise capabilities and make sure that we have a wide spectrum of options and a whole series of wellness programs.”

Measuring the results

Since implementing Bryant University’s wellness offerings, Lulli has seen a significant cost savings on the school’s premiums. Those double-digit premium increases are now a thing of the past.

“Our premiums have been as low as a zero percent increase,” Lulli says. “Over the last few years, our premiums increases have been in the 4-5 percent range, where we were in the 20-plus percentage increase range a few years back, so we believe wellness has been a positive step.”

With the kind of results wellness programs produce, Lulli not only expects lower health care costs but also a more productive work force, and research suggests this is the case. According to the Health and Wellness Institute, more than 60 percent of Americans are overweight or obese, which accounts for $25 billion in absenteeism and lost productivity and approximately $100 billion for direct and indirect care costs annually.

“We’ve been able to see a significant amount of savings,” Lulli says. “We know through the risk factors that a physically inactive person incurs about $1,500 in annual medical costs and takes off three and a half days of work more each year than an active person.”

Of course, with group wellness programs, sometimes it can be difficult finding options for everyone, Lulli notes. Exercise levels vary from employee to employee, which makes it important for an HR department to offer a range of options for the most engagement.

“For people who are not as active, we’ve had yoga classes, zumba classes, tai chi classes and smoking cessation programs.” Lulli says. “We try to incorporate various kinds of programs that are appropriate for different levels of exercise capabilities and make sure that we have a wide spectrum of options and a whole series of wellness programs.”

Measuring the results

Since implementing Bryant University’s wellness offerings, Lulli has seen a significant cost savings on the school’s premiums. Those double-digit premium increases are now a thing of the past.

“Our premiums have been as low as a zero percent increase,” Lulli says. “Over the last few years, our premiums increases have been in the 4-5 percent range, where we were in the 20-plus percentage increase range a few years back, so we believe wellness has been a positive step.”

With the kind of results wellness programs produce, Lulli not only expects lower health care costs but also a more productive work force, and research suggests this is the case. According to the Health and Wellness Institute, more than 60 percent of Americans are overweight or obese, which accounts for $25 billion in absenteeism and lost productivity and approximately $100 billion for direct and indirect care costs annually.

“We’ve been able to see a significant amount of savings,” Lulli says. “We know through the risk factors that a physically inactive person incurs about $1,500 in annual medical costs and takes off three and a half days of work more each year than an active person.”

 

About the Author
Kathryn Mayer

Amanda McGrory

Amanda McGrory is a staff writer for BenefitsPro.com. She can be reached at amandakmcgrory@gmail.com.