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Re-thinking your employee wellness program

Posted by Paula Turnquist

On paper, wellness programs seem like a terrific idea. By encouraging your employees to make healthy lifestyle decisions, they improve the well-being and productivity of your workforce, as well as reduce your healthcare costs as their employer. However, as time has taught many payers, low participation has kept many of even the most well-designed wellness programs from delivering on these promises.

Let us s​how you how you can save 15-30% on your company's total medical  costs. 

While this may be the case with traditional wellness programs, not all wellness programs are destined to fail. In fact, corporate wellness initiatives focused on chronic disease management, rather than general health and fitness, have proven to be quite effective.

Greater return on investment
In 2014, a Rand Corp. study found that although the lifestyle management component of PepsiCo's employee wellness program failed to deliver the company any measurable savings, the disease management program offered the company a hefty return on its investment. They saved more than $3.75 for every dollar spent helping employees manage chronic illnesses, such as diabetes and hypertension.

This study served to show payers just how effective a properly-focused wellness program could be at a time when they were under tremendous scrutiny. Among the critics were the Incidental Economist, which was cited in the New York Times for its article anthologizing the latest journal abstracts that refuted wellness programs' value. Some of the abstracts they collected read as follows:

"...we found little evidence that such programs can easily save costs through health improvement without being discriminatory."

"...although the program did cut some hospitalizations, it did not save money for the employer in the short term."

"Medicaid incentive programs also should be subject to rigorous evaluation to more clearly establish their effectiveness."

Improved awareness and affordability
Since then, more research has emerged supporting the role wellness programs can play in chronic disease management. For example, a January 2016 study from healthcare tech firm HealthMine shows just how effective disease management programs can be when dealing with heart disease. According to their survey, which tapped 501 people enrolled in a health plan last year and who had either been diagnosed with heart disease or listed as at high risk for developing the condition, 38 percent said they were enrolled in a wellness program. Of those, 43 percent reported discovering their heart condition through participation in the wellness program.

Not only have disease management programs improved employees' awareness of their own health concerns, but they have also provided tangible financial assistance when dealing with chronic illnesses. According to the HealthMine survey, 79 percent of people who participate in their wellness plan say it helps them manage their healthcare costs.

Even if your industry hasn't had luck with its own wellness programs in the past, there may still be an opportunity to better serve your workforce and reduce your healthcare spending simply by shifting the focus of your program to disease management, rather than lifestyle improvement. Plus, you will likely see an uptick in participation accompany such a shift, as the ones who could benefit from your new program have a much greater incentive to do so.

Posted by Paula Turnquist

Paula Turnquist joined Kelsey-Seybold Clinic in 2013 as sales manager of Employer Products. She is responsible for the sales of products and services ranging from employer group health plans to Executive Health and Occupational Medicine programs. Paula is originally from the Dallas-Fort Worth area and is a Nursing and Health Care Administration graduate of Texas Christian University in Fort Worth. She has worked in healthcare since 1976 serving major hospital systems, physician practices, venture capital start-ups and large insurance carriers.

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Topics: Wellness Program

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