Whether or not a wellness program will produce a return on an employer’s investment — and how soon it will happen — has become a nearly cliché question these days. “I have yet to have a conversation where someone is not interested in their return on investment if they’re engaged in wellness,” Humana’s Brian T. Sullivan says.

However, “if your objective is to reduce health insurance costs, you’ll fail,” Sullivan, market VP, Southern California, told attendees at San Diego’s benefitsCONNECT Benefits Technology Summit yesterday.

The National Wellness Institute provides a definition of wellness that Sullivan said best describes what an employer’s mission should be in providing a wellness program: “Wellness is an active process through which people become aware of, and make choices toward, a more successful existence.”

The awareness is the key factor. “If you’re going to want to change behavior, it’s all about awareness.”

Success rests on behavior economics, he said, and part of that means giving people “this moment where all of a sudden you go, ‘Oh crap. I’ve got to do something different.’”

That can come from something as simple as viewing their poor biometric screening results. Humana also has a program that will show participants their “vitality age,” which is often five years older than they currently are.  As it stands now, while 60% of women will take an annual physical, the average for men is less than 25%. “Not knowing is not the key to success in this game.”

A Humana survey of 350,000 members found participants who did become engaged saw a 45% cumulative trend reduction in medical and prescription drug costs over a five-year period versus those who remained inactive. “When you get people engaged, you’re actually able to bend the cost curve,” Sullivan said.

You can’t turn everyone into triathletes, he added, but “catching people where they fall is critical,” as is engaging the participants’ entire families, “or it’s never going to work.”

Active vs. inactive

When companies actively promote health and well-being, The World Economic Forum found they are:

  • 2.5 times more likely to be a “best performer”
  • 3 times more productive
  • 3.5 times more likely to encourage creativity and innovation
  • 4 times less likely to lose talent within one year
  • 8 times more likely to have engaged employees

So what does success look like? Employers need to institute personal goals and activities, provide broad and affordable access to the program, include verifiable results, intelligent incentives and a supportive culture with tools and resources at participants’ disposal, Sullivan said. “The No. 1 deal is if you don’t have a culture that will support it … I can absolutely guarantee you’ll fail,” he said.
The fish rots from the head, Sullivan reminded attendees. “People need to feel like their boss has their back,” he said. “That’s huge.”

Sullivan shared four pillars of lifelong well-being:

1)      Purpose. The inspiration that guides us to meaningful activities that bring joy to our lives.

2)      Belonging. The presence of meaningful relationships in our lives and connections within our chosen communities.

3)      Security. The feeling of being safe and the assurance that we’re protected.

4)      Health. Having the energy, physical freedom and desire to thrive in living every day.

Integrating wellness into every day routines, Sullivan said, starts with a wellness program and includes health and wellness centers for coordinated care, biometric screenings that will identify risks, gap-in-care alerts that consumers can act on, health coaching and employee assistance programs.

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