Employee Incentives for Healthy Choices Reduce Healthcare Costs

Health care costs continue to increase, and the main drivers of those rising costs are preventable diseases. With that in mind, and since more than 61 percent of American adults receive their health insurance through their employer, it’s understandable  there are increased expectations on employers to help their employees live healthier lives. To assist employers, many health benefits plans offer incentive or rewards programs aimed at helping employees achieve better health.

In addition to motivating and rewarding workers for living a healthy lifestyle, participating in rewards programs can help keep employers’ claim costs and insurance premiums to a minimum. It also reduces the cost burden on every aspect of the nation’s health care system.

Positive Financial Impact for Businesses

Many studies have assessed the financial impact of programs offered in the workplace that promote health, and many have proven positive ROI for businesses—including incentive programs. Due to the healthier workforce that results from these programs, they’ve been shown to not only lower health care costs, they also help control and reduce other costs, including those associated with workers compensation, disability, productivity, absenteeism and even turnover.

How Health Incentive Programs Work

Different insurers’ plans will vary. But all share similar goals of offering incentives or rewards to drive healthy decision making, thereby moderating health care cost trends.

Depending on a health plan’s options, participating employees might earn points for getting active, losing weight and eating healthier. Also, these programs will reach out to the already-healthy population by rewarding health maintenance. Some plans also offer rewards on screenings for blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar and body mass index to establish a baseline for objectively tracking their wellness data. Employees might also earn points for taking health-related classes, such as nutrition and fitness classes, or for completing a CPR certification course. Typically, participants can then exchange points for a range of rewards set by each insurer.

As a specific example of how a plan works, the HumanaVitality program incents its members with rewards for making healthy choices and achieving individualized wellness goals based on measurable data in four categories: 1) Fitness; 2) Healthy Living; 3) Prevention and 4) Education. Members accumulate Vitality Points for their accomplishments within each category, and then redeem their points from a selection of more than 600,000 reward choices, such as movie tickets, brand-name merchandise, like Oakley sunglasses, or hotel stays in the Caribbean.

Implementing Your Health-Based Incentive Program

There are several best practices to consider when you implement (or are looking to fortify) your health-based incentive program. Here are some proven practices that can help ensure a successful program for your organization.

  • Develop a business culture of wellness. Building a culture that promotes prevention and healthy choices involves changing the way employees view wellness in the workplace, with the goal of truly engaging employees in the program. You want them to understand and “feel” that the program exists primarily for their benefit and the benefit of their families—and not just to reduce business costs.
  • Involve all levels of the organization. Leaders in particular must “walk the talk,” and play a vital, visible role as the example for others to follow. Generate, utilize and celebrate ground-up ideas for developing a healthy workplace.
  • Make your program a routine part of business operations that aligns with your overall business goals.
  • Support the program’s objectives in all facets of your business, e.g., healthy foods in cafeterias, vending machines, meetings and business-related events.
  • Allow employees time for healthy activities. For example, extend lunch breaks for on-site health-related activities, such as fitness classes, yoga, walking clubs and cooking lessons.
  • Encourage work/life balance, e.g., urge employees to take their vacation time.
  • Educate employees to become smarter health care consumers. For example, teach them how to research the facts before buying services, such as lab work or imaging services.

Engaging Employees is Key to Success

Ideally, employees would enthusiastically participate in a program designed to improve their health. Unfortunately, that has not proven to be the case. But they do respond to incentives, especially when a business uses a strong promotion plan to engage employees. Here are some proven ideas for communicating the many benefits of your program that can increase participation.

  • Relay messages about your incentive program and healthy living using multiple communication channels, including emails, company newsletters, intranet sites, screen savers, personalized letters, posters, brochures, flyers, etc.
  • Tailor promotions/communications to employees that align with the way they speak, their learning styles and age. In other words, know your audience and speak in their terms.
  • Let your employees know you are doing this because you want them and their families to have healthy, happy lives. Let them know you value them and care about their well-being.
  • Release communications about each initiative at separate, spaced intervals so they don’t get lost in communication overload.  Make a continuing commitment to the program.
  • Sponsor employees in community walks and runs, organize sports teams, or sponsor your own health-related events, e.g., a low-fat cook off.
  • Tap community resources, such as the American Cancer Society or health department, to speak to your employees on health-related topics.
  • Look for opportunities to draw on resources within your employee base to share topic expertise with their peers. For example, you may have experts in yoga, runners, or walkers working for you that would welcome the opportunity to lead a program.
  • Celebrate individual successes, if the employee is comfortable with doing so.

Overall, the biggest key to success of incentive programs is engaging your employees. There is inherently no way a program can succeed without employee participation from both the healthy and unhealthy population. The more employees are engaged, the more success you’ll reap from your program.

Take Action to Control Costs and Improve Health

Chronic diseases, including heart disease, stroke, cancer and diabetes, cause seven in 10 deaths and account for nearly 75 percent of the $2 trillion spent on medical care in the United States each year. You’ll want to take advantage of the unique opportunity incentive health plans present to help reduce health care system costs—and, again, most importantly improve the health of your employees.

Humana strongly encourages you to talk to your insurance consultant or broker about the incentive program(s) they offer. They can provide you with not only detailed information about effective, data-based wellness plans, but also sound advice on how to implement a successful program of your own.

— Ken Malcolmson is Regional CEO of the Employer Group Business Segment of Humana.

Posted in Expert Opinions, Uncategorized.