Workplace Wellness Programs on Full-Speed Ahead

January 25, 2010 ( matter what Congress decides on health reform, most mid- to large-size employers will not abandon their employee wellness efforts, according to a new study.

A news release about the joint study by Fidelity Investments and the National Business Group on Health (NBGH) said 91% of respondents vowed to stick with their wellness programs regardless of new legislation coming out of Washington.

Employers are spending an average of nearly 2% of their total health care claim dollars annually on wellness programs, while most have implemented an average of 21 programs focused on prevention, lifestyle wellness, condition management, communication and education, the news release said.

Half (51%) of all employers plan to implement at least one additional health improvement program in 2010 and 89% expect to maintain the current programs they offer.

Some 27% of companies, however, do not measure the outcomes of these programs, and 65% of companies have no measurable goals for their initiatives. The study revealed that six out of 10 companies with health improvement programs do not know their return on investment across all their programs holistically.

“Wellness programs are now a standard workplace benefit as employers recognize the need to invest in initiatives that help employees to better manage their health given that health care costs continue to soar,” said Sunit Patel, senior vice president of Fidelity’s Consulting Services business, in the news release. “However when it comes to measurement, wellness programs are in their infancy. Most employers need help establishing clear program goals and measuring the impact these programs have on the overall well being and productivity of their employees.”

To encourage wellness program participation, 57% of companies surveyed said they use incentives that have a cash value. The most common incentives offered by an employer are to reduce the employee’s health care premium, followed by cash and contributions to a health reimbursement arrangement or a health savings account. One out of five companies (20%) spends more than $400 per employee a year on incentives alone. Some 29% spend less than $100 per employee.

The survey found that the most prevalent programs in the prevention and lifestyle category are onsite flu shots (90% of companies), preventive-care reminders related to screenings or annual exams (68%), employee assistance programs (92%), stress management (68%), and smoking cessation (66%). The top condition-management programs are nurse hotlines where nurses are available to answer questions via telephone (79%), diabetes disease management (74%), coronary artery disease, congestive heart failure, and asthma disease management (69%).

Data was collected online between September 11, 2009, and October 5, 2009, by the National Business Group on Health and is based on responses from a national sample of 121 companies from numerous industries.