Employers: Plan Today for Health Care Savings Down the Road

Posted by: Jonathan J. Burke, DO
Date: December 19, 2017

Four modifiable health risk behaviors — lack of physical activity, poor nutrition, tobacco use, and excessive alcohol consumption — are responsible for much of the illness, suffering, and early death related to chronic disease.* Chronic disease contributes significantly to health care costs and lower productivity. Wouldn’t you like to help your employees prevent or manage these conditions so they can have a better quality of life? Wouldn’t you like to have a more productive workforce and lower insurance premiums?

Impact your own health care expenditure

The specific cost of poor health choices was brought to light in a study at the University of Michigan, which looked at 10 of these modifiable health risks in 200,000+ people across seven industries. One out of every four dollars employers pay for health care is tied to unhealthy lifestyle choices or conditions like smoking, stress, and obesity. Behaviors like these accounted for $750 of total expenses for the healthy employees, and about $2,600 for those with pre-existing health problems.(1)

If your company is part of an employer-sponsored health plan, you – the employer – are in the position to impact your current and future bottom line in a positive way. This premise is supported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which reports that changing employee behaviors can slow, stop, or even reverse the progression of a chronic disease. The sooner you begin, the more likely to keep borderline conditions from getting worse.

The workplace as a foundation for better health

Armed with this understanding, employers have gotten proactive with structured workplace wellness programs. This is a great solution with a few caveats for success: Leadership needs to be committed to a healthy company culture, and outcomes are dependent on the quality and scope of intervention. The last thing you want to do is invest in something that does not prove its value through measurable results.

A 2010 review by the CDC’s Community Preventive Services Task Force (2) found that “well-designed programs exert a positive influence on a number of health behaviors, such as smoking, diet, physical activity, and alcohol consumption.” It showed quality wellness programs can improve biometric measures like blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and impact financial measures important to employers, including health care utilization and worker productivity.

The review went on to show that participants in workplace wellness programs had 25 percent lower medical and absenteeism expenditures than non-participants.**

Quality programs are built on evidence

Those employers who choose to initiate a structured program and want to improve its chances of success start by asking a prospective provider questions in five important areas:

  • Inquire about the core mission. Is the company recommending single programs or embedding wellness into the company’s culture to create sustainable healthy behaviors?
  • Ask about the company’s team. Who designs the programs for clients? What are their credentials and experience?
  • Can programs be customized by client? Because every industry, environment, and employee population is different, you need to consider whether your company’s unique requirements will be built into program design.
  • Does the program aim for sustainability of health behaviors and how they fit into employees’ current lifestyle? This helps employees realistically stay the course.
  • Does the program include results reporting? This enables employers to gain insights about employee engagement and evaluate what has worked and what needs improvement.

Finding an effective program circles back to the ability to alter modifiable behaviors and reverse the progression of chronic diseases and their escalating cost trajectory. When health and wellness are integrated as a natural part of a company’s environment, employers are taking an important step. Results can be seen in terms of healthier employees and added value for your wellness efforts — value that can keep paying you back as you travel on down the road.

For information on evidence-based wellness programs for the workplace, contact Populytics/BeneFIT Corporate Wellness here.

*Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, https://www.cdc.gov/pcd/issues/2016/15_0503.htm
** http://www.chapmaninstitute.com/articles/05_TAHP_26_4_Meta_Evaluation_2012.pdf
(1) http://ns.umich.edu/new/releases/23360-unhealthy-choices-cost-company-health-care-plans-billions-of-dollars
(2)https://www.transamericacenterforhealthstudies.org/docs/default-source/wellness-page/from-evidence-to-practice—workplace-wellness-that-works.pdf?sfvrsn=2