Employers of all sizes are implementing wellness programs to help reduce the cost of health insurance and to improve the overall health of their employees. Brokerages are no different. More than 80% of respondents said they are at least considering a wellness program, according to a survey of 102 brokers/advisers/consultants conducted by EBA.

Four in 10 are currently implementing a wellness strategy, and three-fourths of those who don’t have a program plan to adopt one within two years.

So, what services are brokerages looking for from their wellness provider? “A good history of service to clients, strong references, sales and marketing folks [who] don’t disappear once the contract is signed,” says Brad Reynolds, principal, Columbus, Ohio-based Leitrim Strategic HR Solutions, a firm of less than 20 employees that is currently implementing a wellness program.

Other important attributes include finding a vendor that is “transparent in financials, willing to share its other client successes and failures, has experienced staff and understands your business and how wellness philosophies and practices can be effectively integrated into your company’s operations, vision and strategic plan,” he says.

Reynolds says the vendor must have experience with smaller companies. “Not trying to make one size fit all,” he says.

All wellness providers should take that approach, says Ali Winslow, vice president, health engagement at NFP. “It needs to be someone who understands how that product fits with the employer and what decisions that employer should make when implementing that product,” she says. “A good wellness provider can give sound advice based on their experience working with other employers and how that factors into their decision-making process.”

Consultative approach

A consultative approach is another trait among top vendors, says Winslow. “Rather than selling a technology or product, they give sound advice from a consultative standpoint,” she says. “They should be an expert on the topic and know how to deliver the product. A wellness vendor should not be just a salesperson, but a consultant who not only knows the industry but also how to best utilize the product.”

Working face-to-face with clients is important to Winslow, and she looks for wellness vendors with the same mindset. “The best wellness vendors/providers I work with understand the clients, the clients’ needs, and they are available to come on-site.

“I look for a well-rounded approach and a jack-of-all-trades,” Winslow adds. “Some things I look for are a product that fits the needs of the organization and that offers full technology support, from creating eligibility to managing the account.”

Incentives are common and effective, says Cynthia Williams, life and health benefits senior account manager at Atlanta-based Risk and Insurance Consultants. “Most vendors offer premium reduction and discount incentives,” she says. “Plain old cash and gift cards are always an attention-getter.”

With larger municipal clients, reducing premiums and paid time off incentives worked well, Williams says. “Smaller groups do better with in-house contests,” she says.

Meanwhile, one in three respondents who have started thinking about a program said wellness is not a current priority, the survey found. Williams’ firm, which has less than 100 employees, doesn’t have a wellness program, but it has started thinking about adding one. “We have an EAP program as part of our medical coverage,” she says. “Wellness has not been stressed.”

Lack of participation is what forced WorkforceTactix, based in Sparks, Md., to drop its wellness program. “Employees are so busy and overwhelmed, even though they want to participate, they see wellness activities as an added stressor,” says HR Generalist Ashley Grupp. “As a small company, we also have a very limited budget, which makes it difficult to implement successful programs.”

The firm could resurrect its wellness program, Grupp says, if it finds a low-cost plan and a vendor that can drive participation and produce results.

Of those that do offer a wellness program, biometric tests and health risk assessments were cited most often as services offered to employees. However, required participation in such testing was the reason one client dropped its wellness program, Williams says. “The ‘bait’ was that the group would receive a 10% reduction in the premium. The ‘switch’ was that all employees and family members had to do the initial health assessment as well as earn points for various activities,” she says. “It seemed too cumbersome.” 

Identifying chronic conditions

On the other hand, the data generated via wellness programs can have a big impact, such as bringing chronic conditions to the attention of the employer, who can then help the afflicted employees, says Cathy Kenworthy, CEO of Interactive Health, a wellness provider located outside of Chicago.

“Employers that offer wellness programs can obtain important aggregated information on the increasing and high-cost employee segments, and the nature of these health risks, to enable action,” she says.

Action such as: “tailor preventive care programs, offer resources and incentives, and improve health plan design so that employees take steps to improve their health.”

Often times, wellness programs reveal health issues that employees weren’t aware of, Kenworthy says. “We find that more than half the time we are uncovering health risks that were previously unknown to the participant,” she says. “Why? Many health risks are silent, such as high cholesterol.”

Wellness programs benefit both fully insured and self-funded employers, but the latter have more options, Kenworthy says.

“Self-funded employer groups have more flexibility to design an integrated, multi-year wellness and benefit strategy and tailor employee funding through contributions or feature optional health plan offerings,” she says.

“For these employers, comprehensive wellness programs can also offer a great way for employers to successfully and enthusiastically transition employees to a high-deductible health plan or program that drives informed health consumerism.”

HumanaVitality was the most-often cited vendor, with nearly one in five survey respondents listing it as the first wellness provider that comes to mind. That’s not surprising given its rapid expansion. Launched in July 2011, the wellness program surpassed 3 million members in February.

“It’s amazing to see how the program has grown and evolved in just three quick years,” says HumanaVitality CEO Joe Woods. “We’re looking forward to the next million.” 

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