U.S. Wellness Programs Aimed at Reducing Health Care Costs

October 10, 2007 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - The goals for workplace health and wellness programs vary from region to region, with U.S. employers focusing their objectives for these programs at reducing health care costs, according to a survey.

The survey of 555 organizations by Buck Consultants found health care cost reduction is the primary goal in the U.S.; Canadian employers cite employee attraction and retention; and European employers say they most want to reduce employee absences due to sickness or disability, according to a press release on the survey results. Workplace morale was cited by employers in other regions as a reason for wellness programs, and some say improving productivity is the goal.

Thirty-three percent of U.S. respondents attribute a dip in their health care costs to wellness initiatives, with half reporting a reduction of two to five trend percentage points a year. That leaves about 67% of U.S. employers who did not report a measurable success.

Barry Hall, a Buck principal who directed the survey, said the lack of measurable progress is because many wellness initiatives have barely had time to get off the ground and some employers have not devised a way to measure the results.

“Furthermore, not all employers have yet found the most effective tools and programs to achieve the impact they desire or expect,” Hall said in the release. “Clearly, many employers still have work to do to demonstrate the return on investment necessary to ensure senior management’s continued support of their programs.”

U.S.employers spent an average of $135 per employee per year on wellness programs and that cost typically included educational resources, programming, health services, screening, coaching, technology, and employee communications. Employers spent an average of $100 per employee on incentive programs to try to get them to participate in the wellness programs.

The most frequently used wellness programs worldwide are employee assistance programs (EAPs), health risk assessments (HRAs), and immunizations (such as flu shots).

The survey can be purchased from Buck’s for $100 and ordered online at www.bucksurveys.com .