A new study released today said that, despite the recession and recent cutbacks in some benefit programs, companies continue to add wellness and health management programs to promote healthier behaviors among their workers.
The survey conducted by Watson Wyatt, a leading global consulting firm, and the National Business Group on Health (NBGH), an association of more than 300 mostly large employers also found that companies are finding greater success by offering workers financial incentives for participation in these programs.
Employer interest in programs that promote a healthier workforce continues to increase, the survey found. For example, nearly six in 10 companies (58 percent) offer lifestyle improvement programs, up from 43 percent in 2007, while 56 percent offer health coaches compared with 44 percent in 2007. The number of weight management programs is also on the rise, offered by 52 percent of companies, up from 42 percent in 2007. Also, health risk appraisals are offered by 80 percent of companies, up from 72 percent in 2007, according to the survey of 489 large U.S. employers conducted in January.
Companies that offer financial incentives report significantly higher participation in lifestyle management and wellness programs, according to the survey. Incentives for health risk appraisals are on the rise, offered by 61 percent of employers, up from 53 percent in 2008. Other programs that frequently offer incentives to encourage use include those for smoking cessation (offered by 40 percent of employers in both 2008 and 2009), weight management (offered by 34 percent of employers, up from 31 percent in 2008) and full coverage of preventive services (offered by 73 percent, up from 53 percent last year).
According to the survey, even moderate incentives can help engage employees in healthy behaviors. Financial incentives between $51 and $100 can boost participation in smoking cessation and weight management programs and encourage workers to get biometric screenings. Higher participation in health risk appraisals is associated with incentives greater than $100.
This survey coincides with another report out today that quoted Safeway Inc. president Steven Burd. He said that making employees at the third-largest North American supermarket chain accountable for their weight, smoking, cholesterol and blood pressure, has saved millions. Burd proposed the highly praised program used by his company as a model not only to other companies, but to the federal government.
“If you are part of a large organization, you really don’t have to wait for government to do anything,” Burd told the World Health Care Congress being held in Washington. “You can design your own healthcare reform.
Healthcare costs Safeway $1 billion a year for 200,000 employees, Burd said, adding that the program had held those costs level since 2005.
Once again we find that some of the most effective ways to reform healthcare is to reform ourselves.
To view the 14th annual NBGH/Watson Wyatt report, visit www.watsonwyatt.com/2009nbghsurvey.