Magazine article Risk Management

Q&A: Be Well

Magazine article Risk Management

Q&A: Be Well

Article excerpt

Joe Marlowe

Senior Vice President,

Aon Consulting

A recent Aon Consulting survey of more than 70 health care insurers found that health care costs are projected to increase by an average of 10.6% this year. But in a positive trend for employers, this rate of increase is actually the lowest since 2001. According to Aon's Joe Marlowe, employee wellness programs may be the key to this improvement.

What is driving lower health care costs and what can employers do to help this slowdown continue? Some of this improvement is due to the types of medical plans offered, including the introduction of some consumer-driven plans, but we also think that the wider adoption of wellness programs is having an impact. Many employers have come to the realization that it is the health status of their employees and their employee's lifestyle that play a major role in medical expenditures. So that is why you are seeing more widespread adoption of wellness programs.

Employers are trying to take more control of their costs and reach out to employees to help them make the kind of changes in their health behaviors that will eventually moderate health care costs.

Given current economic uncertainty, how do you convince companies that are most likely looking at ways to trim their budgets to continue to invest in wellness?

Employers have been trying to control medical costs for the last five to eight years. [But] they still remain very high, and I think employers have essentially run out of options. They've settled on wellness programs as one of the key elements that they might use to bring long-term cost management. Many employers are realizing that there aren't too many other options out there. They really have to do the best they can to make their employees aware and participate in a wellness program because that, for many of them, is their last, best hope to get control of costs.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

So this is the sort of thing that will survive an economic downturn?

Yes. The C-suite is starting to gain a better understanding of the issue of wellness. They're attuned to the impact of poor health on worker productivity. Now they're not just focusing on a reduction in medical costs that might come from wellness programs. They're also trying to improve worker productivity by improving employee health status. For example, companies that have studied this have determined that the cost of lost productivity can easily exceed medical and drug costs. It's not like it's a small number--it can be very substantial.

Do most companies have wellness programs in place? …

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