The corporate wellness program at DFW Airport is adding a data point in the ongoing debate about the effectiveness of corporate wellness programs. Employer sponsored corporate wellness programs have become increasingly popular in the United States since the passing of the Affordable Healthcare Act, but recent studies have shown that most of these programs do not create desired healthcare savings. But DFW is seeing high rates of participation and significant impact.
As the ACA has incentivized corporate wellness to reduce the overall healthcare costs nationwide, there has been conflict about their impact. A Kaiser Family Foundation survey showed that 53 percent of small companies and 82 percent of large firms offer wellness programs in smoking cessation, weight management, and behavioral or lifestyle coaching.
A study released in JAMA in April analyzed over 32,000 employees at a large warehouse retail company over the course of 18 months to understand the impact of its wellness programs. While employees with access to the program were 8.3-percent more likely to regularly exercise and 13.6 more likely to manage their weight, there was no difference in clinical markers of health, healthcare spending or utilization, absenteeism, or job performance.
But at DFW Airport, the LiveWell program has led to healthcare savings of nearly $6 million for the last four years, as healthcare spending has increased at 40 percent below the national average. The airport even waived employee contributions for medical insurance premiums for the last two months of the fiscal year, saving DFW’s nearly 2,000 employees $314 on average.
The program includes free access to 14 on-site wellness centers, sports leagues, group fitness classes like yoga and CrossFit, personal training, health coaching, and nutritional advice. The program also includes financial incentives for health assessments, educational programs, and lifestyle changes. The company paid $1.1 million to 96 percent of the employees that participated in the incentive programs.
The program led to 90 percent of employees receiving their annual physical, more than 900 pounds lost, nearly 70,000 visits to the wellness centers, and 30 percent of those enrolled in the tobacco cessation program reported being tobacco free after 24 weeks.
The free onsite health clinics provide primary, acute, urgent care, physical exams, and preventative screenings, and resulted in $550,000 is healthcare and productivity savings compared to community health clinics.
Wellness experts say that in order for a program to be successful, it must cover a variety of health measures, including increased exercise, smoking cessation, and nutrition, which DFW’s seems to be doing. A question remains on whether the ariport’s savings and improved outcomes are justified from a purely financial standpoint. Often times, healthcare savings are much less than the amount actually spent on the corporate wellness program, but the programs are not purely financial endeavors. For many, they are a perk of the job that attracts higher quality employees, and help improve overall culture and morale at the workplace. Either way, DFW Airport’s program is having a positive impact on those who work there.