With an employee population plagued with increased health care costs and more responsibility, wellness programs continue to grow in popularity. But to make sure they are making an impact, companies are shifting to outcomes-based plans - which require the assistance of a broker.

In 2012, 53% of companies had a staff member dedicated to wellness, up 43% from the previous two years, according to an Optum white paper. Yet, there is room to grow. In the survey, less than one-fifth (19%) of respondents said their companies set specific program participation goals and 17% strongly agreed that the return on investment is poorly tracked.

Because of this and the changing workforce as baby boomers retire, "wellness programs must change to evolve and truly take a look at [office] demographics," says Beena Thomas, vice president, health and wellness at Optum in Atlanta. "[Wellness] programs take a lot of communication and marketing strategies to be able to target an employee population."

It's a very personal thing, explains Connie Crowell, health and wellness program manager at The Standard in Portland, Ore. One key reason wellness programs fail, she says, is because the employer does not know the health of the population well enough. That is key to what an employer needs to do to have a successful plan. Outcomes-based wellness programs are focused on a baseline measurement, which allows an employer to know their population.

Optum found that 77% of companies surveyed offered an incentive, with the top three incentive-based programs being fitness challenges, biometric screenings and health assessments. Further, 56% of employers said they reward their employees for completion of wellness programs and 45% for enrollment in a wellness program.



A broker can help in these outcome-based wellness programs by advising clients about what employees look like and making sure the guidance provided fits within the realm of the health plan program that is in place, Thomas says. "Often times the communication strategy is key," she explains. "Making sure the provider provides a ... six-month communication strategy in advance of providing new programs to the employee population. The broker's role is advising that client six to eight months ahead of time with, 'Here are some pieces you could put in place before we get to open enrollment.'"

It's a statement that The Standard's Crowell echoes. A broker needs to "have a good understanding of the employer ... what their benefits goals are, what their needs are," she says. "The broker needs to know these goals and understand where the employer is trying to go and then look at the employer specifically ... to help them work toward a wellness solution."

In the end, with all the changes due to health care reform, Crowell says it helps a broker create a foothold with an employer. "Anything you can do to add value to what you are offering," she says. "Wellness programs are such a key thing with what is coming with health care reform and different taxes in 2018. If the broker can help an employer avoid as many costs as possible, I think the employer will find that to be very beneficial."

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