Mid-Market Employers Increasingly Adopting Wellness Programs

April 10, 2014 (PLANSPONSOR.com) – Middle market employers, those with 100 to 199 employees, are seeing an increase in health-related wellness programs, a study finds.

According to the 2013 UBA Health Plan Survey from United Benefit Advisors, 19.2% of the four most popular types of insurance plans—CDHP, PPO, HMO and POS—offer a wellness program. Of these, CDHPs [consumer-driven health plans] continue to lead the trend, with 26.9% offering such programs.

While employers with 1,000 or more employees (58.2%) offer the most wellness programs, middle market employers saw a growth rate around 12.5% in the offering of these programs during 2013—double the rate for any other size employer. Employers with more than 1,000 employees, on the other hand, actually decreased their wellness offerings by 0.7%.

Among the employers surveyed, Health Risk Assessments (HRAs) remain the most popular wellness offering (81%). Sixty-two percent offer incentive awards (a 3.1% decrease), and 61.3% offer a physical exam (a 1.1% decrease). Employers also offer wellness options such as coaching, at 56.2% (a 4.9% increase), and online wellness portals, at 54.7% (a 4.7% increase).

“The key to successful wellness with high employee engagement is to develop programs employees actually want to participate in,” says Lisa Weston, director of employee wellness promotion for the bagnall company, a UBA Partner Firm based in Indianapolis. “Carefully planned wellness programs can be extremely effective, but you must assess employees’ needs with an HRA or biometric data and also assess their desires with interest and incentive surveys. The goal is to offer something for everyone, make it appealing and very accessible. Of course, constant benefit communication is also a key element to success, because in order to use these programs, employees have to know about them.”

Decreasing health care costs is important, says Weston, but so is how employers are using wellness data to boost employee engagement. “Value is placed on return on investment [ROI] in the long run, which can be measured in terms of worker productivity. The question employers should ask themselves is, ‘What target am I trying to hit?’ Then they should plan their program accordingly.”

Data in the survey is based on responses from 10,551 employers sponsoring 16,928 health plans nationwide. Results are applicable to the small to midsize companies that comprise approximately 98% of the nation’s 5 million-plus employers, as well as to larger employers.

More information about the survey can be found here.