Workers Generally Positive About Wellness Programs

October 30, 2007 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - The latest Health Confidence Survey from the Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI) shows in general employed Americans feel positively about employers offering programs that encourage workers to adopt healthier lifestyles.

The latest Fast Facts from EBRI said eight in 10 employees responding to the survey reported they are strongly or somewhat positive about these types of programs (41% each). Less than two in 10 said they feel somewhat (12%) or strongly negative (4%) about these programs.

Most employed Americans agreed wellness programs can help others (89%) or themselves (83%) develop healthier lifestyles.

Employees’ comfort with wellness programs decreases sharply as the programs become more managed, according to the Fast Facts. Sixty percent said they would be extremely or very comfortable if their employer were to offer lower-cost opportunities for health screenings and programs, but only 50% expressed this level of comfort with a program that sends reminders when annual checkups, health screenings, or prescriptions are due.

Even fewer employees (44%) said they would be extremely or very comfortable if their employer were to offer insurance at reduced cost to workers who take a physical and qualify for the reduction, even if workers in poorer health or with at-risk behaviors could qualify by agreeing to manage their illness or lower their health risk.

A recent survey underwritten by The Principal Financial Group found 72% of respondents would be willing to take a required physical examination to determine whether they engaged in risky health behaviors, if it meant they could qualify for reduced premiums (See Most Employees Would Undergo a Physical to Get Reduced Premiums ).

Workers surveyed indicated they might take advantage of wellness programs if they reduced health insurance premiums. Twenty-one percent of employees said they would be extremely likely and 23% said they would be very likely to participate if it reduced their premium by 5%.

Even more respondents said they would be extremely (29%) or very likely (21%) to participate if it reduced their premium by 10%. By contrast, 28% stated they would be unlikely to participate in wellness programs for a 5% premium reduction, and 21% said they would be unlikely to participate even with a 10% reduction.

The EBRI data indicated those in poorer health, with chronic conditions, or with at-risk behaviors would be considerably less likely than other workers to participate in wellness programs, even for a 10% reduction in insurance premiums.

Although many workers agree that wellness programs can help people develop healthier lifestyles, they question employer motivations for offering them. Three-quarters (76%) agree employers that offer wellness programs are showing concern for their workers, but 65% said employers that offer wellness programs are only concerned about their bottom line, and 45% said employers are intruding on worker privacy.

Full results of the 2007 Health Confidence Survey appear in the November 2007 EBRI Notes, available at www.ebri.org .

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