Woman on fitness tracker illustration Do your due diligence to understand the value, historicaldata, and impacts of a wellness program before implementingit.

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Are you looking for ways to take control of your company'shealth care expenses? Right now, 60percent of Americans are living with chronicconditions (this proportion increases each year). As such, the needfor prescription medications and medical treatments continue togrow at a record pace. This takes a financial toll on employers, who end up payingmore for their employees' health care every year.

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Related: Top health care spenders cost $87,870 ayear

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You may find yourself asking, “What is the most effective methodfor managing my health care costs and who can help me achievethis?” I can tell you that the most effective solutions willintegrate a healthy blend of both cost- and cause-containmentstrategies to properly impact the root cause of expenses(individual health) and manage expenses directly. However, to findthe right solution for you, it is important to first consider theneeds and goals of your organization.

How to ensure the effectiveness of a wellness program

To implement an effective solution that improves the well-beingof your employees, you have to first identify what you want toachieve. Goal identification is the difference between implementinga cultural wellness initiative vs. a powerful, results-drivenstrategy. Below are some ideas to help you consider your wellnessgoals.

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What are your goals in implementing a wellness programfor your organization?

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Do you want some of your employees to participate in a healthyinitiative like a 5k run? Or Do you want to empower all of youremployees to be accountable for improving their health in a waythat makes sense for them?

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How are you going to measure success?

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Do you want to measure success through employees' self-reports?Or do you want to measure success through biometric health data (ex: blood pressure) anddecreases in individual claims expenditures over time?

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Why do you want to offer a wellness program in the firstplace?

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Do you want to try out something cool and health-oriented inorder to promote your company culture? Or do you want to prove,beyond a shadow of a doubt, that a program has measurably impactedthe health of your employees, resulted in a sustainable model forgroup health care, and generated an ROI?

How to choose the best wellness program

After identifying your goals, asking pertinent questions willensure that you find the best solution for you. Do your duediligence to understand the value, historical data, and impacts ofa wellness program before implementing it.

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Question: Will this strategy effectively impact thehealth of my organization?

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Participation is critical for a successful wellness program. Askfor the historical participation rate of the program you areconsidering. If less than 50 percent of your employees areprojected to participate, the strategy is severely limited in itsability to have a measurable impact.

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Statistically speaking, in your employee population, theunhealthiest 10 percent will comprise66 percent of total health claim expenditures. What's moreis that the unhealthiest 20 percent typically make up82 percent of expenses. A participation rate that capturesless than half of your population likely does nothing to impactthese people and their expenses continue to drive the cost of yourhealth plan higher. This point is illustrated by the conclusion ofthe National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) thathealthier employees (those who already have fewer medical expensesand healthier behaviors) are likely to be the ones participating inyour program.

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Short answer: Wellness programs statisticallyhave low participation rates and end up attracting employees whoare already considered healthy. This typicallyleaves the unhealthiest people, who cause 82 percent oftotal health care expenditures, unengaged and unimpacted.

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Question: Will this solution reduce expenses or createexcess expenses?

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If your unhealthiest employees are successfully beingincentivized to improve their health risks (meaning they are losingweight, reducing cholesterol, bringing blood pressure or glucoseback to normal levels, etc.) then the program is reducing the needfor prescriptions and treatments, thus reducing claims expenses.However, If your unhealthy employees are not being effectivelyincentivized, your wellness program may sound good in theory, butit will not produce results. NBER did not find statisticallysignificant effects on average medical spending after one year ofwellness program implementation.

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Short answer: Without measurable healthimprovements and decreased medical spending, a wellness program isan added expense.

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Question: How will this program measure success for myemployees and reduce my health expenses in the longrun?

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What methods does the program use to incentivize, track, andmeasure health improvements? Does it operate with self-reports ordata? Do my employees have someone to help them through the processor are they on their own?

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Self-reports of healthy behaviors and productivity do nothave significant impact on health care expenses because theyrely on a person's awareness, which is fallible. Programs that usedata-based health reports are undeniably accurate.

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For example, measuring and recording biomarkers in theparticipant's blood in tandem with analyzing their claims historywill show you data that illustrates whether or not your program isreliable in showing an ROI. Additionally, make sure the program isequipped with personable professionals. For example, if there is ahealth coach who is accountable for developing and maintaining arelationship with employees throughout their health journey, theycan create clinical reports to track participant's progress andhelp empower an individual to achieve their goals.

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Short answer: Health improvements for employeesshould be measured in hard numbers and data reports. Measures ofBMI, Blood pressure, Blood Glucose, LDL Cholesterol, and TobaccoUse and how they change overtime will directly relate to successfor your employees. Measurable health improvements correlate tomeasurably saved health care dollars in the long run. As employeesbring their health biomarkers back into healthy ranges, their needfor treatments and prescriptions decrease.

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Question: How will this program be accountable forhelping my organization decrease my health care expenses in thelong run?

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It begins by making sure that the culture of the wellnessprogram aligns with the vision you have for the culture of healthat your own organization. Does this program have any skin in thegame? Is your win their win, too? Or do they make out with optimumprofits regardless of impact on your organization? Are theyinvested in your company's well being? What is their performanceguarantee?

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Short answer: There are programs out there thatprofit only when you profit– this is a true partnership. A companythat is willing to risk their own revenue is more likely to ensurethe success of the program than a company who profits regardless ofwhether or not they made an impact for you.

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When you find a program that effectively engages the top20 percent of unhealthy employees, empowers them to beaccountable for their health, and drives measurable results, it isa strategy worth investing in. When your employees improve theirhealth, their need for treatments and medications fades away. Thisis how you can take control over your group health care expensesand drive a culture of health with a wellness program.

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Alexandra GoebelAlexandraGoebel is the community outreach specialist forBeniCompInsurance Company and a proponent of social justice. She worksclosely with health insurance industry leaders to deliver insightsthat empower employers to be a driving force in the movementtowards sustainable health care models that improvehealth.


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