Worksite wellness programs have been around for quite some time. In my discussions with brokers and employers I continue to hear a mixed bag of success stories versus languishing programs with low participation. I do think cracking the code on wellness programs is important, for two reasons. First, these programs have the potential to improve the overall health care of a given population and reduce health care cost. And second, it will be beneficial to brokers because it is PPACA-proof. In fact, employers can benefit directly from some of the wellness provisions of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

I believe there are two key approaches that can contribute to making wellness programs more effective and a must-have in a broker's product toolkit. These approaches are first, implement wellness as a seamless part of a comprehensive benefits program and second, understand clearly that one size does not fit all.

 

 

An integrated whole

An integrated approach to wellness means making it truly a component of an overall benefits program by incorporating wellness into both the employee benefits communication portal and online enrollment. Employee benefit communication portals are proven tools where employees can see all the benefits they are eligible for; compare plans, learn about coverage and cost, utilize a variety of decision support tools and, generally, get the information they need to make informed benefits decisions for themselves and their families.

By including the wellness program in the employee portal and tying it directly to their medical plan, employees begin to understand that this is another benefit. This is particularly true when desired outcomes are tied to premium reductions, HSA deposits, or increases in defined contribution amounts.

Next is incorporating online enrollment into the whole. Whether during open enrollment or new hire onboarding, employees experience the introduction to wellness as one of their standard benefits. Completing a health risk assessment, for example, could be a required step in benefits enrollment. Lastly, and probably most important, is they can see the effect on their payroll deductions. And, in much the same way enrollment systems send deduction information to payroll, when desired outcomes are achieved payroll deductions are automatically applied.

The benefits of a wellness program are often limited by low participation rates, and this may be because wellness programs are not customized to the population. People are different. Men and women take part in different types of activities. White-collar workers are more likely to participate in wellness activities than blue-collar workers. Baby boomers and Gen X and Gen Y have different expectations and concerns about privacy and confidentiality and respond differently to messaging. What is said and how it is said are equally important.

Customizing a wellness program to the target population can significantly impact participation and, consequently, the success of the program. Lastly, including wellness program benefits in total compensation statements accomplishes both personalized messaging and incorporation into the whole.

2013 may be the perfect time to implement wellness for your employer groups. Many will be looking for practical programs that are PPACA independent.

Lamb is VP and group head of the EbixBenergy business unit at insurance software company Ebix Health. Reach him at john.lamb@ebix.com.

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