Four Corporate Ideas for Employee Wellness Programs

Stories of Success

If you’re one of the 80% of employers who have offered employee wellness programs and information,[i] you may be searching to see what is working at other companies. Developing a culture of wellness can decrease sick leave absenteeism by an average 28%, and workers’ compensation and disability costs by an average 30%.[ii]

employee wellness programs

How can you increase your employees’ job satisfaction and overall health, while saving hard-earned health care dollars? Here are four power ideas for more successful employee wellness programs

1. Offer Choices.

One size does not fit all in employee wellness programs,” said Crystal Spicer, MedCost Human Resources Manager. As a company offering financial and health solutions for employer benefit programs, clients were asking what wellness outreach MedCost was doing for their own employees.

The MedCost HR team realized that what worked for one employee didn’t necessarily fit another. So the company’s wellness committee designed a point-based program with multiple ways to boost health and earn financial incentives.

The annual program, kicked off in 2016, measured points earned for employee wellness activities on a quarterly and a yearly basis. This chart shows multiple ways that MedCost employees could earn points for the financial incentives at year’s end:

employee wellness programs

“We got people’s attention, which is what we were striving for,” said Crystal. One group of women came to work an hour early to walk together – even climbing stairs.

A Weight Watchers group cosponsored by the company attracted 20 people. Sherry lost 56 pounds. Glenn lost 36. Trish, motivated on her own, lost 40. And their new habits of exercising and eating helped them keep it off.

MedCost offered $100 drawings quarterly for those who met point goals. At the end of 2016, those who accrued the 2,400 points will receive a $500 contribution into their personal Health Savings Account.[iii] Employees enrolled in a Preferred Provider Organization plan could earn a gift card for $250.

Fitness classes offered after work onsite were another way to add points. The company shared costs with employees who signed up for the six-week classes. From the beginning, classes were well-attended.

Financial incentives are effective for successful employee wellness programs. Four out of five employers use financial incentives to promote wellness.[iv]

“Getting buy-in is key,” said Crystal. “Earning these financial incentives are obtainable because there are a whole variety of ways to get there.

2. Incorporate Employee Suggestions

employee wellness programs

Figure 1. Several MedCost employees at the 2016 Heart Walk

Our annual support of the Triad American Heart Association’s walk hit new levels this year – and not just financially. Jenny implemented a leadership contest to raise the most employee contributions, with the winner earning the right to wear this Southern Lady hat, red beads and tutu (See Figure 1).

Brad (in the lovely hat and tutu) definitely stood out in the crowd of 7,500 walkers through downtown Winston-Salem.

But even better were the 125 employees, family members and friends who walked between one to four miles on October 29th. Dogs, babies in strollers, music and laughter made this emphasis on healthy hearts a lot of fun.

Another employee suggestion resulted in a weekly “Walk with Me Wednesday” event, beginning in 2015. MedCost is located in a business park with sidewalks, gazebos and ponds. An average six to eight employees walk 15 minutes together at noon, enjoying fresh air, camaraderie and exercise in a beautifully landscaped setting.

employee wellness programs

Figure 2. MedCost on Kimel Park Drive, Winston-Salem, NC

One key benefit of this weekly walk is better connectivity among the employees who walk together. In many businesses, department knowledge is often siloed from other departments because of different functions. And employees don’t get to know each other.

“The walks really do benefit the mind as well as the body,” said Karen, a 16-year employee at MedCost. “Walking with others just motivates me to get out and walk.”

 

3. Take a Long-Term Approach to Your Return on Investment (ROI)

“Looking purely at hard costs, healthcare spending can be one of the largest single expenses for a business, next to payroll,” said Dan Birach, president of HEALTHWORKS division at Carolinas HealthCare System. [v]

“Statistics show that for every dollar an employer invested in areas such as wellness programming and disease management, they enjoyed an ROI of anywhere from $1.50 to $3.80. Healthy employees are more productive and miss fewer days.”

The Society for Human Resource Management reported that 80% of employers offered preventive wellness services and info in 2015.[vi]

Employee wellness programs are having an impact on reduced dollars spent on health benefits. When corporate wellness programs were implemented:

  • Claims costs reduced 28%
  • Doctor visits reduced 17%
  • Hospital admissions reduced 63%
  • Disability costs were down 34%
  • Incidence of injury reduced 25%[vii]

“A wellness program can make just a small difference at first,” said Crystal. “It has to build gradually.”

Employers offering wellness programs are looking for the same key ingredient for their employees – motivation.

4. Motivate Your Employees for Better Quality of Life

employee wellness programs

Figure 3. Claudia Johnson before losing weight

Claudia works with providers (hospital systems, medical offices and other professionals) at MedCost. When doctors diagnosed medical issues exacerbated by her obesity, she took a hard look at her lifestyle. And wanted to change.

“I am involved in Christian ministries in my personal life,” Claudia said. “I wanted to be in better health. My family and friends supported me to make some new choices.”

MedCost wellness choices inspired Claudia to do things differently. In January of 2016, she braved the cold temperatures to begin walking every morning at 7:30 a.m. with several other employees. She climbed stairs at lunch. She focused on her health.

“I’ve lost 30 pounds,” Claudia said. “I love the fact that I have gone from a size 22 to a size 18. My grandchildren are ten and six. I have to get rid of some more of this weight to keep up with them.”

employee wellness programs

Figure 4. Claudia Johnson after losing 30 pounds

Summary

Inspire your employees. Fit your wellness program to your unique business style and culture. One size won’t fit all, so try different ideas to see what resonates with your employees.

Above all, pour on the encouragement. Your employees are spending a large chunk of their time working for you. Your support may not only boost your bottom line, but improve your employees’ health in a life-changing way.

Your company will produce not only satisfied customers, but loyal, healthier employees.MedCost

 

 

[i] “Eight Things You Need to Know about Employee Wellness Programs,” Alan Kohll, Forbes, April 21, 2016, http://www.forbes.com/sites/alankohll/2016/04/21/8-things-you-need-to-know-about-employee-wellness-programs/2/#4097a3e13e2d

[ii] “Be Stronger, Live Better,” National Association of Health Underwriters Education Foundation, http://www.nahueducationfoundation.org/materials/WellnessBrochure.pdf

[iii] For those enrolled in a High Deductible Health Plan with the company.

[iv] Incentives for Workplace Wellness Programs,” RAND Corporation, http://www.rand.org/pubs/research_briefs/RB9842.html

[v]  “Five Things to Consider When Planning Your Wellness Program,” Dan Birach, HEALTHWORKS Division, Carolinas HealthCare System,  http://www.carolinashealthcare.org/medical-services/prevention-wellness/employer-solutions/healthworks/info-hub

[vi] Kohll, ibid.

[vii] National Association of Health Underwriters Education Foundation, ibid.

Dementia Declines in US Seniors, Study Finds

dementiaA new study finds that the prevalence of dementia has fallen sharply in recent years, most likely as a result of Americans’ rising educational levels and better heart health, which are both closely related to brain health.

Dementia rates in people over age 65 fell from 11.6 percent in 2000 to 8.8 percent in 2012, a decline of 24 percent, according to a study of more than 21,000 people across the country published Monday in The Journal of the American Medical Association Internal Medicine.

“It’s definitely good news,” said Dr. Kenneth Langa, a professor of internal medicine at the University of Michigan and a coauthor of the new study. “Even without a cure for Alzheimer’s disease or a new medication, there are things that we can do socially and medically and behaviorally that can significantly reduce the risk.”

The decline in dementia rates translates to about one million fewer Americans suffering from the condition, said John Haaga, director of behavioral and social research at the National Institute on Aging, part of the National Institutes of Health, which funded the new study.

Dementia is a general term for a loss of memory or other mental abilities that’s severe enough to interfere with daily life. Alzheimer’s disease, which is believed to be caused by a buildup of plaques and tangles in the brain, is the most common type of dementia. Vascular dementia is the second most common type of dementia and occurs after a stroke.

dementiaThe new research confirms the results of several other studies that also have found steady declines in dementia rates in the United States and Europe. The new research provides some of the strongest evidence yet for a decline in dementia rates because of its broad scope and diverse ranges of incomes and ethnic groups, Haaga said. The average age of participants in the study, called the Health and Retirement Study, was 75.

The study, which began in 1992, focuses on people over age 50, collecting data every two years. Researchers conduct detailed interviews with participants about their health, income, cognitive ability and life circumstances. The interviews also include physical tests, body measurements and blood and saliva samples.

While advocates for people with dementia welcomed the news, they noted that Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of memory loss remain a serious burden for the nation and the world.  Up to five million Americans today suffer from dementia, a number that is expected to triple by 2050, as people live longer and the elderly population increases.

The number of Americans over age 65 is expected to nearly double by 2050, reaching 84 million, according to the U.S. Census. So even if the percentage of elderly people who develop dementia is smaller than previously estimated, the total number of Americans suffering from the condition will continue to increase, said Keith Fargo, director of scientific programs and outreach, medical and scientific relations at the Alzheimer’s Association.

“Alzheimer’s is going to remain the public health crisis of our time, even with modestly reduced rates,” Fargo said.MedCost

(Kaiser Health News, Liz Szabo, November 21, 2016)

Employee Deductibles Rise Faster Than Wages

ks110111-medEmployer health insurance expenses continued to rise by relatively low amounts this year, aided by moderate increases in total medical spending but also by workers taking a greater share of the costs, new research shows.

Average premiums for employer-sponsored family coverage rose 3.4% for 2016, down from annual increases of nearly twice that much before 2011 and double digits in the early 2000s, according to a survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation. (Kaiser Health News is an editorially independent program of the foundation.)

But 3.4% is still faster than recent economic growth, which determines the country’s long-run ability to afford health care.

And the tame premium increases obscure out-of-pocket costs that are being loaded on employees in the form of higher deductibles and copayments. Another new study suggests those shifts have prompted workers and their families to use substantially fewer medical services.

For the first time in Kaiser’s annual survey, more than half the workers in plans covering a single person face a deductible of at least $1,000. Deductibles for family plans are typically even higher.

Deductibles are what consumers pay out of pocket before the insurance kicks in. Employers sometimes contribute to pre-tax accounts to help workers pay such costs.

Employers have been flocking to high-deductible plans in recent years, arguing that exposure to medical costs makes consumers better shoppers.wingeddollar-sm

It also saves employers money. Having workers pay more out of pocket shaved half a percentage point off premium increases of employer-sponsored plans in each of the past two years, Kaiser researchers calculated.

Since 2011, the average deductible for single coverage has soared 63%, according to the survey, while workers’ earnings have gone up by only 11%.

Microsoft PowerPoint - 20160825 Cumulative Slides [Read-Only]

 

 

(Kaiser Health News, Jay Hancock and Shefali Luthra, September 14, 2016)

 

Federal Study Helps Seniors Stay at Home

seniors stay homeA federally-funded project that researchers say has potential to promote aging in place began by asking low-income seniors with disabilities how their lives at home could be better, according to a study released Wednesday.

At the end of the program, 75% of participants were able to perform more daily activities than they could before and symptoms of depression also improved, researchers said in the journal Health Affairs. 

Called Community Aging in Place, Advancing Better Living for Elders, or CAPABLE for short, the program was funded by the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Innovation.

The seniors who took part were each paired with a team for five months that included an occupational therapist, who made six visits; a registered nurse, who made four; and a handyman, who worked a full-day at the participant’s home installing assistive devices and doing repairs, according to the study.

The nurses and therapists helped participants identify three achievable goals for each member of the team and identify what barriers had to be overcome. For example, the therapist might survey a house for safety issues such as unsafe flooring, poorly lit entrances and railings in disrepair.

seniors stay homeThe therapist then worked with the elderly person to identify assistive devices, repairs or modifications that could help achieve the participant’s goals. Next, the therapist created a work order for the handyman that prioritized those goals within a $1,300 budget for each dwelling.

Spending on assistive devices and home repairs ranged from $72 to $1,398 for each participant, the researchers said.

They studied 234 adults older than 65 who participated in CAPABLE, all eligible for both Medicare, the government health insurance plan for seniors, and Medicaid, the government health insurance plan for low-income people.

All participants had trouble with routine tasks in a group of eight known as activities of daily living. They include bathing, dressing, using the toilet and walking across a small room. On average, participants had trouble with 3.9 tasks at the start, but improved to just two by the end of the program.

Researchers said they could not conclude that the participants’ improvements were due to the CAPABLE program because the project was funded without a control group to make scientific comparisons.

(Kaiser Health News, Rachel Bluth, September 7, 2016)
KHN

 

The Life-Saving Resource Ignored After Heart Attacks

childrens hospital readmissionsCHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — Mario Oikonomides credits a massive heart attack when he was 38 for sparking his love of exercise, which he says helped keep him out of the hospital for decades after.

While recovering, he did something that only a small percentage of patients do: He signed up for a medically supervised cardiac rehabilitation program where he learned about exercise, diet and prescription drugs.

“I had never exercised before,” said Oikonomides, 69, who says he enjoyed it so much he stayed active after finishing the program.

Despite evidence showing such programs substantially cut the risk of dying from another cardiac problem, improve quality of life and lower costs, fewer than one-third of patients whose conditions qualify for the rehab actually participate. Various studies show women and minorities, especially African Americans, have the lowest participation rates.

“Frankly, I’m a little discouraged by the lack of attention,” said Brian Contos, who has studied the programs for the Advisory Board, a consulting firm used by hospitals and other medical providers.

ManWithHeartNow, though, advocates say cardiac rehab may gain traction, partly because the federal health care law puts hospitals on a financial hook for penalties if patients are readmitted after cardiac problems. Studies have shown that patients’ participation in cardiac rehab cut hospital readmissions by nearly a third and saved money.

The law also creates incentives for hospitals, physicians and other medical providers to work together to better coordinate care.MedCost

(Kaiser Health News, Julie Appleby, August 31, 2016)

KHN

 

 

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Health Costs Up 6% for Big Employers in 2017

Big employers expect health costs to continue rising by about 6 percent in 2017, a moderate increase compared with historical trends that nevertheless far outpaces growth in the economy, two new surveys show.

These cost increases, while stable, are both unsustainable and unacceptable,” said Brian Marcotte, CEO of the National Business Group on Health (NBGH), a coalition of very large employers that got responses from 133 companies.

Employers are changing tactics to address the trend, slowing the shift to worker cost sharing and instead offering video or telephone links to doctors, scrutinizing specialty-drug costs and steering patients to hospitals with records of lower costs and better results.

Most large-company employees should expect a 5 percent increase in their premiums next year and, in contrast to previous years, “minimal changes” to plan designs, NBGH said.

(Kaiser Health NewsJay Hancock, August 9, 2016)
Kaiser Health News

How to Turn Health Care Data into Dollars

Is your company one of the growing numbers of US employers using health care data to manage expenses?

Just as employers keep a close watch on profit and loss columns, the same analysis is now available for companies’ health care costs. Big data is increasingly driving improved, better coordinated care to improve employee health while managing spiraling expenses.

We know this is a complicated topic (just like health care). That’s why we’re offering a free white paper examining the role of big data in health care and how employers can achieve true quality, cost-effective outcomes.

Between 1999 and 2015, employer-sponsored health premiums rose 203%.[i] Managing employee health costs is becoming more and more difficult every year.

Big data compiles massive amounts of data from multiple sources, yielding key metrics and predictive analytics for health care providers. Providers can then leverage this into interventions that provide high quality, cost-effective care. And employers who receive regular reports on trends can work with a benefits administrator to better manage those costs while supporting employee health outcomes.

Jane’s Story

diabetic, advanced analytics, big dataHere’s an example of how MedCost applies this analysis. Jane,* a 42-year old female member with moderately-controlled diabetes, has health benefits through her job. Jane’s biannual visit to her Primary Care Physician (PCP) documents her routine lab work, prescriptions and referrals for preventive screenings.

Between PCP visits, this diabetic member gets the flu, causing severe increases in blood glucose levels. When Jane goes to the Emergency Room, the ER doctor increases her medication dosage. After she goes home, Jane’s personal blood glucose meter shows an alarming drop in her blood sugar levels. Jane calls her PCP, who adjusts her dosage to prevent more complications. Jane’s next checkup is planned in six months.

Was all the data communicated from the hospital’s electronic records, the lab vendor’s system, payer claims and her home monitoring glucose meter? Will the PCP be able to verify that Jane actually obtained her preventive mammogram or flu vaccine prescribed before the ER visit?

At MedCost, Jane’s case would be carefully monitored by her nurse health coach. If there is an issue, her nurse health coach would follow up.

white paper

Chronic illnesses like Jane’s need expert support to prevent worse outcomes and resulting higher costs. And advanced analytics can now identify patients and populations at risk for developing certain conditions prior to the actual onset of illness.

 The white paper, Transforming Data into Dollars, offers an understanding of factors influencing the need for advanced analytics solutions, including an example using the MedCost Care Management programs.

Here are other insights from the white paper:

BENEFITS OF ADVANCED ANALYTICS  
   
1.     Accurate Reporting Normalized measures based on industry-accepted tools of evaluation yield best results for your employees.
2.     Maximized Outcomes Your company will rate higher on the Analytics Sophistication Scale and outperform industry peers.
3.     Healthier Employees Potential risk for developing conditions can be identified and prevented.
4.     Lower Costs Wise management of expenses creates a sustainable long-term cost trend.

  We’ve identified high-risk employees, improved health results and minimized costly hospital visits using precise data analysis in a sample case study that illustrates these key benefits. Download our white paper to learn how.

white paper

*Actual patient data not used.

[i] “Recent Trends in Employer-Sponsored Health Insurance Premiums,” Kaiser Family Foundation, January 5, 2016, http://kff.org/infographic/visualizing-health-policy-recent-trends-in-employer-sponsored-health-insurance-premiums/ (accessed June 16, 2016).

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Childhood Diabetes Rates and Costs Climb

childhood diabetes employer health costsChildhood diabetes rates are on the rise, and a report released Monday pointed to the impact that the cost of their care could have on families — even those who have employer-sponsored health insurance.

The study, conducted by the Health Care Cost Institute (HCCI), found that children as old as 18 with diabetes who were insured through an employer-sponsored plan racked up $2,173 per capita in out-of-pocket health care costs in 2014. That spending level was nearly five times higher than that of kids without the illness.

The HCCI researchers analyzed data from claims submitted from 2012 to 2014 through group, individual and Medicare Advantage insurance policies to analyze health care spending and utilization trends among people younger than 65 who had diabetes and employer-sponsored coverage plans.

In terms of use of medical services, children with diabetes visited the emergency room 2.5 times more often than children without it. Acute inpatient services were used nearly five times more often. In all, a year’s worth of care cost $17,380 — the second only to adults aged 55 through 64 with diabetes.

Although more prescriptions and frequent doctor’s visits help explain the difference inchildhood diabetes rates cost the health care costs generated by children with and without this illness, researchers were still surprised by the magnitude of the disparity.

Families are “spending more out-of-pocket across the board on all types of services,” said Amanda Frost, a senior researcher at HCCI. “And it’s just higher use. So when you end up using all of these health care services, you end up with a very personal impact on your wallet, especially if you’re a parent with a child with diabetes.”

(Kaiser Health News, Heredia Rodriguez June 20, 2016)

Kaiser Health News






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Saving Health Costs: A Case Study

It is possible to save on health care costs. Here’s how.

savings hospital admissions health costs

Between 1999 and 2015, employer-sponsored health premiums rose 203%.i Deductibles for workers have mushroomed faster than both income and premiums. Businesses have struggled to find ways to contain these costs while providing for their employees.

This graph, “Health Plan Savings for One Employer,” is a real-life illustration of how wise management based on data analysis has saved millions of dollars for a MedCost client over the past five years.

When this client came to MedCost in 2010, hospital admissions were 87 per 1,000 covered lives. Without any changes in plan design or benefits, the MedCost clinical team ensured that patients received thorough follow-up care to avoid readmissions after joint replacements, cardiac and back surgeries and other procedures.

Skilled nurse managers helped schedule doctor visits and asked questions such as: “Are you taking all your meds? Is there anything you don’t understand about your care?”pregnancy, pregnancies, high risk pregnancy, health costs

Board-certified case managers and highly specialized obstetrical nurses focused on early identification of high-risk pregnancies, offering tips for prenatal care. Sometimes they interacted with doctors’ offices to help families get the answers they needed.

MedCost nurse health coaches worked with patients suffering chronic conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, migraines or congestive heart failure, helping them reduce symptoms, close gaps in care and comply with treatment plans.

The result? Better health for patients, and increasingly lower costs for employers. Since 2011, this employer has enjoyed five consecutive years under budget for health plan expenditures—as a result of data analysis and managing the right care at the right time through MedCost Care Management programs.

It is possible to save on health care expenses, using the right partner to manage employee health effectively. If you would like more information about this case study, please contact Jason Clarke at jclarke@medcost.com.

 

[1] “Recent Trends in Employer-Sponsored Health Insurance Premiums,” Kaiser Family Foundation, January 5, 2016, http://kff.org/infographic/visualizing-health-policy-recent-trends-in-employer-sponsored-health-insurance-premiums/ (accessed June 16, 2016).

 

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