Employers Offer Programs to Promote Health, Productivity

With double digit health care cost increases, a slowing economy\r\nand new legislative regulations, will employers continue to offer\r\nhealth promotion and health management programs?

With double digit health care cost increases, a slowing economy and new legislative regulations, will employers continue to offer health promotion and health management programs?

The answer is yes. In fact, a new study by Hewitt Associates shows that 92 percent of U.S. companies currently offer some kind of health promotion program, up from 88 percent in 1995.

"Due to increased cost pressures, employers are looking for creative and effective solutions, such as health promotion and medical management programs, that can provide cost savings, reduce absenteeism and increase productivity," said Camille Haltom, a health care consultant with Hewitt Associates. "Organizations will continue to offer health programs in an effort to contain skyrocketing health care costs and enhance employees'' health."

The following summarizes various types of initiatives that a growing number of companies are offering:

  • Seventy-one percent of companies now offer employees some kind of education or training, a 5 percentage point increase since 1995. Programs range from seminars and workshops to counseling for lifestyle habits that contribute to chronic or acute conditions.
  • Financial incentive and disincentive programs hold steady with 40 percent of companies continuing to offer them, compared with 32 percent in 1995. The most common incentives companies offer are gifts or monetary awards for employees who participate in health appraisals or screenings. Examples of disincentives include charging employees a higher medical or life insurance premiums if they smoke, or giving employees a lower medical benefit payout if they''re was not wearing a safety belt while involved in a car accident, or under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
  • Twenty-seven percent of companies administer health risk appraisals (questionnaires) to analyze an employee''s health history and promote early detection of preventable health conditions. These appraisals are designed to make employees more aware of behaviors they may need to change and sometimes provide suggestions for modifying lifestyles to lessen the risk of health problems. Most employers use appraisals periodically (41 percent) or annually (41 percent). Internet and online applications are making it easier to provide serial evaluations that can help participants understand the impact of changes in health habits. The questionnaires are often administered in conjunction with broader health management initiatives.
  • Nearly three-quarters (74 percent) of employers use health screenings, compared to 67 percent in 1995. Most administer screenings to detect high blood pressure or cholesterol through their health plans or via on-site health fairs, mobile units for mammography or other screenings.
  • Seventy-seven percent of corporations offer employees special programs such as disease and medical management, flu vaccinations, well-baby/child care, and prenatal care, compared to 71 percent in 1996.
  • Nearly three-quarters (71 percent) of employers report that they are considering or already have some type of disease management initiative in place to help reduce health care costs and keep workers healthy and productive.
  • The majority of employers offering disease management (77 percent) and wellness programs (67 percent) to employees as part of their health plan benefits design, while some companies self-administer wellness (34 percent) and disease management (10 percent) programs.

"Many companies have either implemented disease management programs this past year, or are exploring them as part of their health care strategy for 2002," said Haltom. "Organizations have been interested in disease management programs for several years now and it''s growing in popularity because the market is mature enough for health plans and specialty providers to address employer''s needs and help contain costs."

by Virginia Foran

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