Are wellness programs effective?

|

That’s one of many questions being asked by employersconsidering implementing a program. The answer depends. What’s“effective”? Is it decreased medical costs, increased employee productivity, reduced absenteeism?

|

Various studies have reached a range of conclusions, alldependent on the researcher’s definition of “effective.”

|

Now, the National Bureau of Economic Research is weighing inwith their answer: No.

|

Related: 4 wellness lessons from University of Louisville's"Get Healthy Now" program

|

NBER created and implemented a wellness program for onecompany’s more than 12,000 employees at the University of Illinoisat Urbana-Champaign and found no noticeable improvement in healthbehaviors, medical expenditures, employee productivity and othersuch measures after one year.

|

What NBER did find: the 56 percent of employees that did electto participate in the wellness program showed lower medicalexpenditures and healthier behaviors in the year prior to theprogram than non-participants, suggesting that they already hadsome degree of health-consciousness.

|

The program, iThrive, offered incentives, including a $30 Amazongift card for completion of a 15-minute baseline health survey.Respondents were then divided into one of five test groups or asixth control group. Further testing included biometric screeningand health risk assessment, followed by an invitation toparticipate in wellness activities throughout the year. Monetaryrewards ranged from $50 to $350, depending on the treatmentgroup.

|

At best, NBER concludes, wellness programs can be used as ascreening tool, used as an incentive by employers to recruit orretain employees who are likely to be lower-cost health careusers.

|

NBER’s conclusion won’t be the last we hear about wellnessprograms, of course. Previous studies have emphasized theincreasing returns of programs as they continue over time. "Moststudies report break-even returns or better after two or more yearsof program implementation, and several studies suggest a $3 returnfor every $1 invested in the program after three-and-a-half years,”Hans Hage, vice president of product development for StayWell, toldBenefitsPro last year.

|

Complete your profile to continue reading and get FREE access to BenefitsPRO, part of your ALM digital membership.

  • Critical BenefitsPRO information including cutting edge post-reform success strategies, access to educational webcasts and videos, resources from industry leaders, and informative Newsletters.
  • Exclusive discounts on ALM, BenefitsPRO magazine and BenefitsPRO.com events
  • Access to other award-winning ALM websites including ThinkAdvisor.com and Law.com
NOT FOR REPRINT

© 2024 ALM Global, LLC, All Rights Reserved. Request academic re-use from www.copyright.com. All other uses, submit a request to [email protected]. For more information visit Asset & Logo Licensing.

Emily Payne

Emily Payne is director, content analytics for ALM's Business & Finance Markets and former managing editor for BenefitsPRO. A Wisconsin native, she has spent the past decade writing and editing for various athletic and fitness publications. She holds an English degree and Business certificate from the University of Wisconsin.