Magazine article Risk Management

Can They Afford Not To?

Magazine article Risk Management

Can They Afford Not To?

Article excerpt

Wellness is an approach to containing health care costs that's become increasingly popular, and there's mounting evidence why. Consider that in one two-year study, for every $1 invested, the employer recovered $1.68 in employee benefits savings. In another five-year study, that same $1 delivered $2.51 in savings. "Wellness makes sense," says Jan Ranger, manager of health promotion for Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield.

Managed care has come a long way to help control the supply side of health care costs by focusing on the fees and services performed by hospitals, doctors and labs. "Wellness addresses the other half of the health care equation," says Gib Riffle, coordinator of health promotion for Acordia. "By focusing on the demand for health care--educating employees when and how to utilize employee benefits and by teaching employees to be proactive about their own health--significant savings are attainable."

Many successful wellness programs have been created on a shoestring budget, so the financial commitment doesn't have to be an obstacle. "There are many health education services available free of charge in your community," says Ms. Ranger. Wellness encompasses things like the Great American Smokeout, lunchtime walking programs and discounts to area health clubs, as well as less traditional approaches like classes in calligraphy, self defense, photography or gardening, possibly even taught by coworkers. "Less traditional programs can also influence behavior changes," explains Ms. Ranger.

"Wellness needs to be part of the business' overall strategy," according to Ms. Ranger. Unfortunately, many wellness initiatives are often the first budget item to be cut. "It should be treated like any other business decision. Companies devote a lot of time and energy when they invest in a new computer system. It's even more important to plan for the implementation and goals a wellness program is intended to achieve."

There are a number of issues that need to be addressed before you introduce a wellness program in the workplace. What's your definition of wellness "It's a very individual thing," explains Ms. Ranger, "influencing employees physically, emotionally, mentally and vocationally." What are the employer's expectations for productivity, morale, absenteeism and health care cost savings?

Data are integral to the process, both in the planning stage and more importantly, later, to measure the wellness program's success. Companies can contract for the services of a professional wellness coordinator to oversee the program, but employee task forces can also provide the needed leadership. …

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