Disease Management Important to Controlling Health Benefit Costs

Employers reported certain diseases/conditions have a big impact on health plan costs.

More than nine in 10 organizations offer at least one physical wellness initiative, according to the Workplace Wellness Trends 2017 survey from the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans (IFEBP).

On average, organizations have had their programs in place for 7.6 years. Three-quarters indicated they offer wellness initiatives primarily to improve overall worker health and well-being, while one-quarter aim to reduce or control health-related costs.

The survey found the conditions having the greatest impact on employers’ health plan costs are diabetes (41%), cancer (33%), arthritis/back/musculoskeletal issues (32%) and obesity (29%). Respondents commonly offer disease management programs (48.1%) and case management (39.6%), a patient care model focusing on coordinating medical services for individuals.

The top barriers for implementing wellness initiatives include:

  • Workers finding time to participate – 39%;
  • Dispersed worker populations – 27%; and
  • Keeping momentum going – 26%.

Three-quarters of respondents use some type of wellness incentive, including gift cards and non-cash incentives.

Employer wellness initiatives typically utilize a number of internal and external staff that assist in wellness program operations. Internally, they use benefits staff (75%), human resource representatives (49%), a committee devoted to wellness activities (45%) and organizational leadership (42%). Externally, they use insurance providers (49%), benefit consultants (46%) and wellness consultants (37%).

Most organizations with knowledge of the return on investment (ROI) of their wellness programs have found between a $1 and $4 return per dollar spent, with an average of $2.28. Ninety-two percent state their wellness efforts are a success.

Organizations use a variety of methods/factors to calculate ROI on wellness programs, including:

  • The use of health risk assessment (HRA)/screening condition/risk trends – 29%;
  • Factoring program expenses into their calculations – 29%; and
  • Total health plan cost trend lines – 21%.

Responses to the survey were received from 530 IFEBP members, including 431 responses from U.S. employers and 99 responses from Canadian employers.