Wellness Programs Reduce Health Costs for Education Institutions

August 1, 2008 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - A Sibson Consulting survey of higher education institutions found that those with lower health care costs were more likely to invest in wellness than those with higher health care costs.

A Sibson report on the survey results said the presence of dedicated staff and a faculty and staff wellness committee show the highest relationship with lower costs. The survey also showed that making wellness a key business initiative and using metrics that are regularly monitored were prevalent practices in institutions with lower costs.

“Investments that are personalized, raise awareness, and focus on changing behavior – healthy eating, fitness and smoking cessation – are the most significant differentiators in terms of lowered costs,” Sibson said in the report.

Forty-one percent of employers reporting lower health care costs (less than $7,000 per employee) reported having a healthy eating program in place, while only 17% of those with higher health care costs reported having such a program. Likewise, 77% of those with lower costs have a smoking/tobacco cessation program in place, while 59% of those with higher health care costs have one in place.

The survey also found that communication and education can be tied to lower health care costs. Eighty-six percent of employers reporting lower health costs say they provide online health and prevention education, compared to 58% of education institutions reporting higher health costs.

Sibson also found that 68% of respondents with lower health care costs have in place group health and disease management programs, while only half of those with higher health costs do.

One problem is that few higher education institutions measure such metrics as employee unscheduled absence rate and use of short-term leave. Doing so would provide “an opportunity for institutions to identify root causes and develop strategies to have an impact on the health and productivity of faculty and staff,” Sibson said.