Employers Continue to Increase Wellness Program Efforts

March 1, 2012 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - Most companies plan to increase the dollar value of the incentives they offer employees to participate in health-improvement programs this year. 

The latest employer survey conducted by Fidelity Investments and the National Business Group on Health (NBGH) found that almost three out of four (73%) companies used incentives in 2011 to engage employees in health-improvement programs and the average incentive value was $460. That figure has steadily increased from an average of $430 in 2010 (see “Employers Increasing Use of Incentives for Wellness Programs“) and $260 in 2009.   

Employers used different types of incentives including cash, gift cards and contributions to health savings accounts. The majority (57%) agreed that incentive-based programs had a better than expected success rate at increasing employee participation.  

The survey found that a small, but growing number of companies are requiring employees to participate in health-improvement programs in order to be eligible for medical benefits. Last year, 5% of companies required their workers to complete biometric testing (e.g. cholesterol screening) or be excluded from coverage. That number is expected to nearly double in 2012 to 9%. Likewise, 7% of companies required completion of a health-risk assessment last year. This year, 10% of companies will require it.  

Incentives aside, the average employer spent $169 per employee on health-improvement programs in 2011, comparable to $154 in 2010 and up from $108 in 2009.

While smoking cessation and Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) are the most prevalent lifestyle-management offerings in the workplace, healthy cafeteria food options are expected to be introduced by 16% of employers this year. Currently, 51% of companies offer such choices.   

Among health-risk management programs, 11% of companies are planning to introduce healthcare advocates (who help employees find medical specialists and navigate the healthcare system). Currently, 46% of companies have advocates. Condition-management programs are expected to remain unchanged from 2011, with companies investing the most in managing conditions related to diabetes and asthma.  

The majority (76%) of companies responding to the Fidelity/NBGH survey reported they do not know the return on their investment in health-improvement programs.  

Data for the survey was collected online between November 1 and December 30, 2011, by the National Business Group on Health in conjunction with Fidelity and is based on responses from a national sample of 139 companies from numerous industries including transportation, healthcare, technology, entertainment, consumer products, retail and energy.