Outcomes-based wellness programs see little growth
Despite the buzzworthy label, the use of outcomes-based wellness plans isn’t growing as fast as some may have predicted. Hindered by more pressing matters and dogged by questions about what happens with the data collected, HR directors report waning enthusiasm for these programs, analysts say.
Nearly half (44%) of companies nationwide had outcomes-based wellness programs in 2015, according to a recent survey from Fidelity Investments and the National Business Group on Health. However, this percentage rose only a “statistically irrelevant” 2% from the year prior, says LuAnn Heinen, vice president of the National Business Group on Health in Washington.
Further, those numbers may decline in the near future, adds Jennifer Patel, director of wellness engagement at Kansas City, Mo.-based wellness company Hallmark Business Connections.
Also see: Connecting the wellness dots
Laws around outcomes-based programs are not crystal clear, Patel says, which is one reason for a potential decline. “The [laws] have evolved with the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. … Employers and organizations find themselves in court, [with employees] questioning, ‘Is it legal for employers to ask me to submit to these biometric screenings or health risk tests?,’” she explains.
When organizations see others like them in court, they become “shy — and rightfully so,” Patel adds. “The laws aren’t clear and questions [remain] over HIPAA and how data is managed, stored and passed. … More employers [will] sit back and wait this out.”
Other obstacles to increased popularity for outcomes-based wellness programs include the difficult implementation process and concerns about the type of impact such plans will have on company culture. “You have to be careful, because depending on what your intent is, … people don’t understand what takes place, what happens with the data and info, and that can really affect a company’s culture,” she says. “More and more, employers are starting to sit back and go, ‘I don’t know [if] I want to go down that road.’”
These programs tend to address physical health, which, while important, is just one “component of where the puck is going in the broader view of employee wellbeing,” Heinen says.
“Every employer who is active in this space wants to do something to help employees with physical health, and outcomes-based incentives make a lot of sense to a lot of employers,” she says. “But, they are also spending time and energy thinking about emotional health, financial wellness, job satisfaction, social connections and how all those pieces contribute to wellbeing.”
“The evidence is becoming clearer that physical health is not the main driver of productivity, performance and business outcomes,” Heinen, director of NBGH’s Institute on Innovation in Workforce, adds.
Still, while data may show the programs are declining, Lubbock-Texas based iaConsulting has 90% of clients using outcomes-based programs, with the intention of reaching 100% by 2016. The company’s president, Bill Hartsfield, says it is something he brings up when talking with clients.
Hartsfield discusses outcomes-based wellness programs at renewal time when clients express frustration with rising health care costs. He tells employers, “We can do the same dance [we’ve done] for the last three decades, or gut your plan.”