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Health insurance and wellness programs

Thereís now a training and accreditation body called the Wellness Council of America. Itís trying to catch the wave by establishing standards for all sides of the equation, namely the employers, the employees, the medical profession, wellness professionals and the insurance industry. This is like trying to herd cats. Most employees come to work and fail to see any benefit to them in participating in any fitness exercises or comparable activities. Indeed, many grow deeply resentful if their employer tries to push them into dressing in something sporty and getting out of breath doing something aerobic. They see this as an invasion of their privacy. If they want to be overweight or merely unfit, thatís their business and their employer is not paying them to lose weight or prepare for the next NY Marathon. Yet, perhaps surprisingly, three-quarters of all employers are now offering some type of program. We all know this enthusiasm for encouraging greater levels of activity in their employees is rewarded by lower premium rates from the insurers, but why has it become so popular?

This is where statistics hit the wall of prejudices from all the individual employees who resist being rousted out of their comfortable offices and set workplace routines. The evidence suggests that every $1 spent on a comprehensive wellness program saves about $3 in health costs. Even more interestingly from the employerís point of view is that healthy employees tend to have better morale and work more effectively. When you add in better attendance and greater productivity, employers tend to be pleased by the outcomes. So how are employers persuading their employees to play ball (literally and metaphorically)? The answer comes in two completely different elements.

First, the program must be well-designed. This starts with an analysis of the health records of all the staff. When the employers look back through all the health claims made over as long a period as possible, itís possible to identify the health problems most consistently affecting the loyal workers. Pleasingly, this may indicate changes to work practices to reduce the incidence of these problems. For example, if too many staff are affected by repetitive strain injuries, a simple redesign of the work may avoid the problem. This will improve the attitude of the staff who will no longer feel victimized and save money on health claims. To speed this process along, itís often a good idea to establish employee committees to discuss workplace problems and suggest improvements to minimize injuries. Again the evidence shows directly involving the employees in changing workplace routines to make life easier and safer is highly motivating.

Second, staff have to feel motivated not just in theoretical discussions but also in participation. This relies on financial incentives. Look at bonuses for completing a course of activities, or in hitting a weight target, or being able to meet a jogging target. This can be in cash or in contributions to the health savings accounts. The more employees receive incentives, the better their active engagement. The result of the best programs is cheap health insurance rates for all active participants. The word of mouth generated by those with savings encourages the slackers. Health insurance rates will be lower if all if employers plan and reward their staff.


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