Survey: 43 Percent of Companies Have Formal Health/Wellness Strategy

Some 43 percent of companies have adopted a formal disease management and health promotion/wellness strategy for their employees, according to a survey of approximately 200 companies conducted by Aon Consulting. Another 19 percent said their management has asked them to explore the possibility of implementing a health management program.

"When you consider these results together with increased implementation of consumer driven health plans, it's clear that senior management has begun to embrace a more holistic approach for managing rising health care costs," said Michele Becker, a vice president with Aon Consulting. She said the challenge employers face is to "balance short-term administrative costs with a desire to impact longer-term health care costs, reduce absence and improve productivity."

Obesity and lack of physical inactivity were the top lifestyle concerns (62.8 percent for the two) for human resource executives surveyed. Another 15 percent cited stress, but only 3 percent rated smoking as their primary concern.

"This is an interesting finding in light of the fact that smoking remains the No. 1 cause of early preventable death in the U.S.," Becker said.

Asked about chronic health risks, 53 percent of the HR managers cited heart disease as their most significant concern, followed by diabetes at 11 percent.

"The disparity between heart disease and diabetes indicates some plan sponsors may not fully appreciate the toll diabetes can take on hypertension, heart, kidney and eye disease," Becker noted.

While 72 percent of the companies with programs offer on-site health screenings, Becker warned that these tests can be expensive and urged employers to "research market alternatives carefully to find high-quality, cost-effective service providers so as not to erode potential return on investment." Companies also offered weight management (63 percent), health risk assessments (62 percent), smoking cessation (58 percent) and stress management (46 percent).

Return on Investment

Fifty-two percent of the HR executives said their companies expect a return on investment for their wellness programs but only 16 percent said positive ROI was expected in the first year of the program.

Some 49 percent of the managers said a reduction in health risk factors was the most important measure of the program's success. Another 32 percent cited a reduction in utilization or claims, and 16 percent cited employee participation.

Approximately two-thirds of the companies offer some form of incentive for participation in the wellness programs, including health incentives (wellness credits, fitness program discounts), financial incentives (cash, FSA contributions, flex credits) and reduced health plan contributions.

"Incentives increase participation and high participation yields results," Becker said. "To realize ROI, companies must incorporate incentives appropriate for their work force such as reduced contributions, wellness credits and deposits to flexible spending accounts."

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