Wellness Programs: Should Your Association Have One?

Should companies devote major resources to actively improving the health and wellness of their employees? A recent survey found nearly 90 percent of employers say yes.

Skeptics and supporters of businesses aggressively trying to improve the health of their employees have new statistics to use in the ongoing debate over employee wellness programs.

An overwhelming majority of companies are now offering financial incentives to employees to get healthier, according to a survey by Fidelity Investments and the National Business Group on Health, reported in The Wall Street Journal.

Both the pro and con sides of the argument wrestle with the implications. More details:

The backstory: Nearly 90 percent of employers are now offering financial rewards to employees who actively work to get healthier, according to the survey. That’s compared  with the 57 percent that did in 2009. Companies today are paying even more for wellness perks—$521 per employee, up from $260 in 2009. Businesses believe  “if they pay more they’ll get a better result,” Adam Stavisky, a Fidelity benefits consultant, told the WSJ.

The argument for: A recent article in Inc. featured a number of small businesses that found success actively promoting employee health and wellness. A healthcare company discourages “non-urgent emails” outside of working hours on weekdays, weekends, and holidays; a communications technology company grants employees 90-minute lunches to give them more time to go to the gym, and sponsors sports teams; a manufacturing company based a year-long fitness program on “friendly competition”; and one business outsourced its wellness plan to give employees better options than the company would have been otherwise able to provide. All these examples supported the writer’s assertion that a “healthy workforce is a hard-working workforce.” Randel K. Johnson of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce said in a blog post on The Hill website that “at the end of the day, both employees and employers benefit from better health” and putting resources into wellness programs leads to lower healthcare costs “which allows employers to use these savings to pay employees higher wages, invest in further adapting benefits to specific employee population needs, and create more jobs.

The argument against: The Wall Street Journal article also notes plenty of cons that companies should take into consideration before instituting a more aggressive wellness program. An article in The Week asks whether these programs are discriminatory, and the piece provides some pretty convincing arguments that they are. Companies aren’t just looking to improve employee health, but to cut costs in the process. “Health care overhaul allows companies to charge workers 30 percent more on health insurance if they don’t meet certain markers of healthfulness,” according to Bloomberg Businessweek. Mike Miesen of  The Health Care Blog told The Week that companies aren’t yet seeing the savings that investing in these programs were meant to bring about. He cites a study that found “a 12 percent reduction in hospitalizations and a $22.20 per member per month decrease in inpatient health claims cost—but also a $19 per member per month increase in non-inpatient claims costs (which doesn’t include the wellness program costs, which were substantial).”

What side of the debate does your association support? Let us know your thoughts in the comment section.

Daniel Ford

By Daniel Ford

Daniel Ford is a contributor to Associations Now. MORE

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