U.S. Employers Look to Wellness Programs for Health Savings

November 16, 2009 (PLANSPONSOR.com) – When it comes to U.S. workplace wellness programs, the major goal continues to be dampening health care cost hikes, a new Buck Consultants’ survey has found.

A Buck news release about its study, “WORKING WELL: A Global Survey of Health Promotion and Workplace Wellness Strategies,” said among the U.S. respondents who have measured the effect of wellness programs on their health care cost trend rate, 43% report a reduction in the trend rate, typically 2% to 5% per year.

Asian employers tend to be outliers compared to employers elsewhere around the world since the Asians primarily look at wellness plans as morale boosters, Buck said. Otherwise around the world, according to Buck researchers, employers pursue wellness initiatives to improve productivity by keeping employees healthy and working.

The survey also found differences in the key health malady being targeted by wellness programs. Stress is consistently cited as the top health risk driving wellness programs in all areas of the world, except for the United States and Latin America, where lack of exercise and poor nutrition are top concerns.

“Employers in the United States and Latin America seem to lag behind the rest of the world in addressing stress and its related conditions such as depression, anxiety, and fatigue,” said Barry Hall, a Buck principal who directed the survey, in the news release. “These are among the most significant drivers of productivity loss and absenteeism, as well as increased health care costs.”

Incentive awards, designed to improve employee participation and engagement in wellness programs, are most prevalent in the United States (offered by 56% of respondents). The use of incentives in the United States has increased 63% since Buck’s inaugural survey in 2007.

U.S. respondents spend an average of $163 per employee per year on wellness incentive rewards, up from an average of $100 two years ago. Twelve percent of U.S. respondents spend more than $500 per employee per year, with the largest incentive reported at more than $2,000 per year per employee.

Global Growth

Wellness programs are still most prevalent in North America, where 77% of responding employers offer them. However, strong growth is reported from all regions of the world, despite current economic conditions. Globally, 24% of respondents indicated a decreased ability to provide wellness services, and 19% actually enhanced their wellness initiatives.

The fastest-growing components of wellness initiatives around the world are expected to increase 100% or more over the next three years. These include technology-driven tools, such as Web portals, online healthy lifestyle programs, and personal health records.

The survey analyzed responses from more than 1,100 organizations representing 10 million employees in 45 countries. The poll was conducted in association with CIGNA, International Health Consulting, Pfizer, and WorldatWork.

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