Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Workplace Health Programs May Slow Insurance Claims

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Workplace Health Programs May Slow Insurance Claims

Article excerpt

Corporate wellness programs have gained increasing popularity since the '70s, when formalized physical fitness programs and cooperative athletic facilities began to appear. Since then, thousands of companies have instituted "wellness" or workplace health programs.

No longer a frivolous fad, almost two-thirds of the nation's worksites with 50 or more employees now have such programs, according to a National Survey of Worksite Health Promotion Activities conducted by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The Association for Fitness in Business, Stamford, Conn., an employer wellness group founded in 1974, now has more than 3,000 members.

But does workplace wellness make a company fit? Why would businesses struggling to keep a lid on health-related costs spend additional money when health insurance rates are climbing 20 percent or more annually?

Companies considering wellness programs would be wise to ask two questions?

- Will workplace health programs reduce health care claim payments?

- Will workplace health programs really accomplish what they set out to do - improve the employee's state of health and productivity?

The stakes are high. According to the federal Health Care Financing Administration, the nation's medical bill has more than doubled since 1980, from $248 billion to almost $500 billion in 1987. The agency forecasts this cost will rise to $1 trillion by the year 2000.

The Washington Business Group of Health estimates that every smoker costs an employer from $624 to $4,611 a year in illness, absenteeism, accidents, disability and death. And The Samaritan Institute in Denver calculates productivity losses due to stress costs industry $17 billion annually. Even a minor heart attack can cost a company thousands of dollars in lost time and extra insurance claims.

Wellness is a preventive approach to controlling health care costs. Workplace health progrfams are based on the belief that it costs less to prevent illness than to treat it. Many experts claim that health-promotion programs in such areas as smoking cessation, weight loss, hypertensive control and exercise have long-term, positive economic potential, well worth the small expenditures involved. Basic components of workplace health programs are educational health, employee assistance, early detection and physical fitness programs.

Advocates of workplace health programs claim that they make workers healthier, happier, more productive and reduce medical insurance costs - all translating into an improved bottom-line. …

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