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How employers can take advantage of the best-kept wellness secret

Did you know: Some insurance carries pay wellness dollars to companies who implement wellness programs. Continue reading this blog post to learn how companies can take advantage of insurance companies’ best-kept secret.


Did you know some insurance carriers pay companies to implement wellness programs? It’s called wellness dollars, and it is insurance companies’ best-kept secret.

Wellness dollars are a percentage of a company’s premiums that can be used to cover wellness-related purchases. The healthier employees are, the fewer dollars insurance carriers need to pay out for a policy. Many insurers have incentives like wellness dollars for employers to improve the well-being of their workers.

The benefits of adding a wellness program are plenty. These programs typically generate a positive return on investment for companies. Research done by three Harvard professors found that overall medical costs decline $3.27 for every dollar spent on wellness programs. Costs from absenteeism fall about $2.73 for each dollar. Well-designed programs can improve employees’ overall wellbeing and life satisfaction, according to a report from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

It’s a new year, and group health insurance plans are starting fresh. Here’s how employers can take advantage of wellness dollars.

Get in touch with your carrier. The first step is to get in touch with your insurance carrier to find out if your self-insured or fully-insured plan covers participatory or health-contingent programs. If you don’t have wellness dollars, it’s still early in the year, and it’s worth negotiating to see if you can include them in your company’s current package.

You will work with your insurance carrier to determine how your wellness dollars can be spent, based on an agreed-upon contract. The amount of wellness dollars that you receive depends on the number of employees and profitability.

Every company is different, so the range of services varies and could include wellness programs, gym memberships, nutrition programs, massages and more. Sometimes incentives for wellness activities can be used; sometimes it can’t. Ask your carrier for a complete list of covered expenses. This will help you as you shop around to find the right offerings. Save receipts and records for reimbursements.

Determine the best use. There are a few ways to determine what offerings you should use for your company. Before making any decisions, ask your employees and the leadership team what type of program they would be most likely to engage in. Gallup named the five elements that affect business outcomes: purpose, social, community, physical and financial. Look for a comprehensive program that includes these five elements, instead of coordinating with multiple vendors. If only a portion of your expenses will be reimbursed, it’s still worth getting a wellness program. They have cost-savings on an individual and team level.

Wellness programs are all about building culture, and with unemployment at a record low, it’s a sticking point to keep employees invested in your company. A few examples of wellness offerings include fitness classes, preventive screenings, on-site yoga, financial wellness workshops, healthy living educational workshops, and health tracking apps.

Once you’ve implemented wellness offerings in your workplace, keep track of your company’s progress. Create a wellness task force, a healthy workplace social group, or conduct monthly survey check-ins to make sure employees are staying engaged. Some wellness programs utilize technology to track participation, integrate with wearables, and report other analytics. Ask your insurance carrier if wellness dollars have flexibility in adding or changing the services throughout the year, based on engagement.

SOURCE: Cohn, J. (14 February 2019) "How employers can take advantage of the best-kept wellness secret" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/how-employers-can-take-advantage-of-the-best-kept-wellness-secret


Seeds of Change

Fruits and vegetables fill a variety of essential nutritional needs and help protect us against certain diseases. Continue reading this blog post from UBA to learn more about how adding more fruits and veggies to your diet can positively impact your health.


Has anyone ever said to you, “Eat your vegetables!”? Have you ever admonished your own kids to do the same? Are you guilty of throwing away the banana your mom packed in your lunch bag, or ignoring that apple you brought to the office — the one that’s now shriveled up and inedible?

Chances are you can answer “yes” to at least one of the above. While many people are trying to include more fruits and veggies in their diets, most of us could probably do better — in fact, most of us should probably eat twice what we’re currently eating. That’s because fruits and vegetables fill an incredible variety of essential nutritional needs and can help protect against certain diseases. These may include heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, and even some cancers. They can also help reduce the risk of digestive and eye problems.

Veg out

Let’s hear it for vegetables. These colorful foods are cholesterol free and low in fat and calories. Depending on the variety, they offer vitamins A and C, folate, and potassium, along with fiber to aid digestion. The fiber also helps you feel fuller faster, which may help you stay away from less-nutritious, higher-calorie foods. They’re just as good for you whether cooked or raw, fresh, frozen, or canned, whole or chopped. Even 100% vegetable juice counts. Try to eat a wide variety, including red and orange (such as peppers and carrots), dark green leafy (such as spinach), peas and beans (such as lentils), and starchy (sweet potatoes).

More fruit? Sweet!

As with vegetables, fruits provide a host of nutrients. Potassium, vitamin C, folate, and fiber are just a few. In addition, fruits are low in sodium, calories and fat and have zero cholesterol. Some fruits contain plant chemicals (phytochemicals) that may play a part in keeping you healthy — but this is being looked into further by scientists. In general, though, a diet that includes plenty of fruit may help reduce the risk of stroke, type 2 diabetes, birth defects, and heart disease. The potassium in fruit may help with bone strength. And fruit may also protect against certain kinds of cancer. Like veggies, you can enjoy fruit fresh, frozen, whole, chopped or sliced, or as 100% juice.

How much?

So just how much do you need to consume to get “enough” fruits and veggies? It depends on your age, your activity level and whether you’re male or female. For adult women, 1½ to 2 cups of fruit and 2½ to 3 cups of vegetables per day is recommended. Men should strive for 2 to 2½ cups of fruit and 3 to 4½ cups of veggies. Try to eat a variety of each, as no one fruit or veggie will give you all the nutrients you need. If you try to make half the food on your plate fruit and vegetables, you’ll be well on your way to getting the earthborn nutrients they offer.

So think green. And red, yellow, orange, blue and purple. Experiment with different varieties and recipes. Sneak spinach into sauces and omelets. Make frozen treats from fresh fruit. There are so many ways to enjoy fruits and vegetables — and you’re sure to enjoy their health benefits, too.

Sources:

USDA. ChooseMyPlate.gov. Why is it important to eat vegetables? June 2015 https://www.choosemyplate.gov/vegetables-nutrients-health (Accessed 1/3/2019)

USDA. ChooseMyPlate.gov. Why is it important to eat fruit? June 2015     https://www.choosemyplate.gov/fruits-nutrients-health (Accessed 1/3/2019)

Healthyeating.org. Health benefits of vegetables. https://www.healthyeating.org/Healthy-Eating/All-Star-Foods/Vegetables (Accessed 1/3/2019)

Healthyeating.org. Health benefits of fruits. https://www.healthyeating.org/Healthy-Eating/All-Star-Foods/Fruits (Accessed 1/3/2019)

Produce for the Better Health Foundation & the Centers for Disease Control. Fruits & Veggies – More Matters. Top 10 reasons to eat more fruits & vegetables. http://www.fruitsandveggiesmorematters.org (Accessed 1/3/2019)

Harvard School of Public Health. The nutrition source. Vegetables and fruits.
https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/what-should-youeat/vegetables-and-fruits/ (Accessed 1/3/2019)

Helpguide.org. Healthy eating. https://www.helpguide.org/articles-healthy-eating/healthy-eating.htm (Accessed 1/3/2019)

SOURCE: Olson, B. (12 February 2019) "Seeds of Change" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from http://blog.ubabenefits.com/seeds-of-change


Employee wellness programs and compliance: What to know right now

Do you know whether your wellness plan is “purely participatory” or “health-contingent?” Under the Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act (HIPAA) current guidance, employers need to assess whether the plan is “purely participatory” or “health-contingent.” Read on for more.


Defining “wellness” for any one person is no simple task, and neither is deciphering a given wellness program’s compliance under the law.

In 2016, when the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) released its final regulations defining a “voluntary” program under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the entire landscape — at least what can be seen on a hazy day — appeared defined. But thanks to AARP’s successful challenge to these regulations and the EEOC’s recent acknowledgment of the demise of its incentive limitations, employers find themselves back in the “Wild West” of sorts for wellness compliance.

That being said, the uncertainty is not new for employers with wellness programs, and there is now more guidance than before, so let’s take a moment to take in the current view.

The current guidance under the Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act (HIPAA) remains unchanged, so any wellness program integrated with a health plan or otherwise constituting a health plan itself, employers need to assess whether the plan is “purely participatory” or “health-contingent.” The health-contingent plans (which condition the award of incentives on accomplishing a health goal) will require additional compliance considerations, including—but not limited to—incentive limitations, reasonable alternative standards (RAS), and notice requirements.

The RAS should be of particular importance because they can be missed most out of the compliance parameters. Often there is an “accidental” program such as a tobacco surcharge, and the employer does not even realize the wellness rules are implicated, or the employer’s RAS is another health-contingent parameter that actually necessitates another RAS.

The Department of Labor is actively enforcing compliance in this area, so employers will want to take care.

Additionally, the EEOC’s ADA (and Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act) regulations are still largely in force. This seems to be a common misconception—ranging from a celebration of no rules to a lament for the end of incentivized wellness programs that include disability-related questionnaires (like an average health risk assessment) or medical examinations (including biometric screenings).

The truth is somewhere in the middle.

The ADA’s own RAS and notice concepts still apply, along with confidentiality requirements. All that has changed is that the EEOC has declined (again) to tell us at what point an incentive turns a program compulsory. So employers sponsoring wellness programs subject to the ADA have three choices, based on risk tolerance (In truth, there are four options, but charging above the ADA’s previous incentive limitations would be excessively risky):

  • Run incentives for ADA plans up to the 30 percent cap that existed before. This is the riskiest approach. To take this route, an employer must rely upon HIPAA’s similar (though not exactly the same) incentive limitations as indicative of non-compulsory levels. The fact that Judge Bates did not accept this argument in the AARP case advises against this approach, but this case does not have global application. If this path is chosen, it will be imperative to document analysis as to why this incentive preserves voluntariness for your participants.
  • Keep the incentives below the previous 30 percent cap but incentivize the program. This approach does have risk because no one knows at what point an incentive takes choice away from participants. However, the incentive is a useful tool to motivate and reward health-conscientious behavior. The wellness incentive limitations stood at 20 percent under the HIPAA regulations for quite some time without much concern, so this could be a relatively safe target. But the most important thing is to carefully assess the overall structure of the program(s) offered, consider the culture and demographics of the employees who may participate, and balance the desire to motivate against the particular tensions of the program to decide on a reasonable incentive. Make sure to document this analysis and reconsider it every time a program changes.
  • Not incentivize the program at all. This is the most conservative approach from a compliance perspective but ultimately not required. Before the EEOC’s 2016 regulations, employers were incentivizing programs subject to the ADA, and nothing about the AARP case or the EEOC’s response to it prohibits incentives.

There’s no doubt the wellness compliance landscape has changed a little over this last year, but this is also just the tip of the iceberg. With enforcement heating up, it is imperative for employers to carefully consider compliance, document the reasonableness of incentive choices and lean on trusted counsel when necessary to avoid potentially costly and time-consuming issues.

SOURCE: Davenport, B. (13 February 2019) "Employee wellness programs and compliance: What to know right now" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitspro.com/2019/02/13/employee-wellness-programs-and-compliance-what-to-know-right-now/


4 ways to help employees make better choices about what they eat

How often are there doughnuts, chips, soda, etc. in the break room? According to the RAND Corporation, 60 percent of Americans suffer from at least one chronic condition. Continue reading to learn more.


Doughnuts in the conference room. Soda and chips from the vending machine. Cookies in the office kitchen. A recent CDC study of employees across the U.S. found that the foods people get at work tend to contain high amounts of salt, sugar and empty calories.

When people are busy and on-the-go — a common reality for full-time employees who spend more than a third of their day at work — it’s all too easy to fall into poor eating habits. And poor eating habits contribute to poor health. According to a RAND Corporation Study, 60% of American adults suffer from at least one chronic condition (like diabetes or high blood pressure) and 42% have more than one. These conditions are costly, and not just for individuals themselves. The CDC estimates that productivity losses related to health issues cost U.S. employers $1,685 per employee per year, or $225.8 billion annually.

For employers that care about wellness, improving food and beverage offerings represents an untapped opportunity: Better nutrition at work can not only have a powerful impact on employee health but also contribute to a happier, more focused and productive workforce. Making large-scale changes across an organization is not always easy, however, especially when it comes to ingrained habits and preferences. What can today’s employers do to incentivize their employees to make healthier choices?

1. Make healthy food and beverages a benefit.

According to Deloitte’s 2018 survey on Global Human Capital Trends, 63% of employees surveyed cited healthy snacks as something they value highly when it comes to wellness. People want to eat healthier, which is great, but when they are busy, they’ll pick up what’s easy and available. And in too many of today’s offices, that means vending machines and office kitchens stocked with ultra-processed foods high in sugar and salt. Not only are these items unhealthy, they can also lead to sluggishness and lethargy as blood sugar levels spike and then crash.

It’s pretty simple: When more nutritious offerings are readily available — and especially if they are free or subsidized — people are more likely to try them. Companies that offer high-quality food and beverages as a benefit will reap rewards not just in terms of a healthier and more productive workforce, but also in attracting and retaining people, like millennials, who value wellness and appreciate the fact that their employer is investing in their health and happiness.

2. Get personal.

Different people have different drivers and different needs. This is why a one-size-fits-all approach to changing habits rarely works. Before making big decisions about your company’s food and beverage services, ask questions: Are some people on special diets or do they keep unusual schedules? What do people like and dislike about current available options? What kinds of foods and drinks do they wish were offered, but aren’t?

With a better understanding of habits, preferences and what drives people to the kitchen or break room in the first place (boredom? low energy? social time?), employers can begin to build a food and beverage profile that’s tailored to their workforce’s individual needs and thus more likely to be embraced.

3. Consider the “psychology” of snacking.

People don’t always make rational decisions — even more so when they are tired, stressed or “hangry.” But when corporations make the healthy choice the easy (and delicious!) choice, it helps. Everything from where snacks and drinks are positioned — are the more nutritious options at eye level? — to the design of kitchen and break room spaces can make a difference in promoting better eating habits.

For example, kitchen spaces that are attractive, comfortable and inviting encourage people to take a little more time and put more thought into selecting their snacks, and can also serve as a welcome place for people to connect with each other and de-stress. Taste is another important consideration. People sometimes assume that healthy food won’t taste as good as the bad stuff, but this is often just a misconception. Special tastings or fun office activities like offering a “snack of the week” can get people to try more nutritious options and see for themselves that they can be just as — if not more — delicious than what they were eating before.

4. Nudge, don’t push.

Don’t expect people to move from potato chips to veggie and quinoa salad overnight. Organizations that start with a few key changes — replacing sugary sodas with flavored water, for example, or swapping out highly-processed snacks and foods with similar, but more nutritious options — will face less initial resistance, and can then build up their healthy offerings over time. Every workplace has their guilty pleasures, whether it’s a specific brand of soda or a favorite candy. Rather than turning people off by taking their “comfort snacks” away, sometimes the best approach is to simply add healthier alternatives and then wait for people discover on their own that these can be equally fulfilling and delicious, and most importantly, make them feel better too.

Workplace wellness initiatives continue to grow in popularity, but there are still questions about whether these programs are as effective as they could be. While health screenings, smoking cessation programs and gym memberships are a good start, corporations shouldn’t overlook a key driver of good health — what their people eat and drink. Providing easy access to a great diet at work is a smart strategy for improving wellness, and one that employees will come to appreciate as a valuable benefit. Plus, healthy, enthusiastic and energized people makes for a much happier and more productive workplace — a win-win for employees and employers alike.

SOURCE: Heinrich, M. (3 January 2019) "4 ways to help employees make better choices about what they eat" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/list/4-ways-to-help-employees-make-better-choices-about-what-they-eat?brief=00000152-14a7-d1cc-a5fa-7cffccf00000


How to make on-demand fitness work for wellness

Virtual fitness is making it easier for people to engage in physical activity. The demand for this new technology is growing. Continue reading to learn more about virtual fitness.


The way we work out is changing. Technology makes it possible to watch movies, order meals, even rent bikes on our own terms, and people increasingly expect their fitness options to be just as easy. Enter on-demand, virtual fitness.

The demand for virtual fitness is booming. In the United States alone, the virtual fitness market is expected to reach $2.6 billion by 2022. Whether people are too intimidated to go to the gym, have difficulty finding time in their schedules to attend a class, or have difficulty finding classes that fit their needs — virtual fitness makes it easy for them to engage over time.

As a result, more employers are realizing the value of investing in employee health and the benefits of keeping employees physically active. Lack of physical activity contributes to numerous health risks, which can lead to increased healthcare costs and lost productivity. Physical activity has also been found to have a positive impact on mental health and well-being. For example, it’s been estimated that employees who are in poor health are twice as likely as their healthier coworkers to be disengaged from work.

On-demand, virtual fitness is an option that can be more affordable than establishing an on-site gym, and with 35% of employees working remotely, on-demand fitness allows employers to offer the workouts to more employees.

As would-be fitness fanatics increasingly turn to apps to help tone their abs, what should employers know to ensure success? Here are a few strategies.

1. Make it personal. It’s a simple concept: People will be more likely to exercise if they find a workout that appeals to them. The best on-demand options offer classes for a wide range of interests — from cycling to yoga to kickboxing, to mom-and-baby fitness or simple stretching.

2. Make it flexible. People come in all shapes, sizes, and fitness levels. Make sure classes work even if your employees aren’t super fit. Even better, look for something that offers users a natural progression from wherever they start to higher levels of fitness.

3. Make it accessible. The whole point of virtual fitness is that people can take part anytime and anywhere. Look for programming that makes classes available online from a desktop or laptop computer and on both Android and iOS-based smartphones or tablets. This allows employers to make fitness available during lunchtime in the break room, while also giving employees access to short exercises they can do during a break at their desks or even on the road.

4. Make it trackable. Virtual fitness programming can be integrated into your benefits portal to allow for tracking of wellness incentive points. This encourages employees to track their progress and to create a virtual community that encourages the success of all its members.

Today’s workforce is tech-savvy, and that dynamic is only going to become more prevalent. Using mobile devices or apps to give employees what they need to balance life and work will continue to be a smart move for employers.

SOURCE: Von Bank, J. (30 November 2018)  "How to make on-demand fitness work for wellness" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/opinion/tips-to-make-on-demand-fitness-work-for-your-wellness-program?brief=00000152-146e-d1cc-a5fa-7cff8fee0000


How To Stay Sane During The Holidays

The holiday season can be the most stressful time of the year for many people. Carrie Dorr, fitness and wellness expert, shares her best tips for remaining balanced, healthy and happy during the holidays in this blog post.


The holiday season can often be the most stressful time of the year. It's often when we gather with our family, sit through a performance review with our boss, and plan for the new year. One cannot help but feel a mix of joy and anxiety as they approach this time. If you're feeling the pressure of the next few weeks, you're not alone!

As fitness and wellness expert Carrie Dorr says, "When it comes to being healthy, few of us realize that mental well-being is key to holistic health and remaining balanced in busy times. Our social calendars can take a toll on our mental and physical health." As the founder of Life Smart, Carrie is a go-to online wellness guide dedicated to providing women with the tools they need to enhance their holistic health through fitness, nutrition, and mental care.

She shares her best tips for remaining balanced, healthy and happy during the holidays:

Fitness

Even a 5 or 10-minute workout can significantly improve your overall well-being both physically and mentally. As Carrie explains, "Exercise makes your body stronger and also stimulates the production of endorphins which combat stress."

If your schedule doesn't allow for workout classes or gym sessions, at the very least, make time to breathe and stretch—every day. "Breathing relaxes our nervous system and helps to lower both heart rate and blood pressure. Flexibility and range of motion are key to posture, dexterity, and vitality!" Carrie says. She recommends doing both together daily.

Last but not least, don't forget to put together a workout playlist. Music is a powerful motivator and can have an amazing impact on your exercise. From Carrie's experience, matching the song to the pace of your workout helps optimize it. Higher beats per minute (BPMs) for faster exercise like cardio and lower BPMs for slower exercise like strength training and yoga. Check out Carrie's playlist for this month here.

Nutrition

Snack well and often to keep your metabolism humming and to avoid binging. Keeping nutrient-dense snacks on-hand, such as nuts, is a good way to build the habit. Be sure to drink plenty of water throughout the day. Keep a bottle on your desk for a visual reminder.

"With cold and flu season, increased travel and exposure around more people over the holidays," Carrie says, "it’s important to eat foods that help boost your immune system so you can prepare for the cold and flu season ahead." Some examples include fruits and vegetables (they pack a serious antioxidant and fuel your body with the essential vitamins and minerals), bone broth (an amazing tonic that helps repair the gut lining and reduce inflammation) and meals seasoned with ginger, turmeric, onions or garlic (they are well-known fighters of infection, bugs and bacteria).

Another key aspect of your nutrition is your sugar intake. As refined sugar tends to alter your immune system for hours after consumption, it makes you more vulnerable to germs. Replace high-sugar treats such as soda, candy bars and cupcakes with slices of apples, pear or a cup of blueberries. If you're really craving one of those sweets, Carrie recommends trying out healthy cookie recipes here.

Mental health

Anticipating losing sleep? Do not let that happen! It's essential for your body to repair itself and while most of us love to do it, there are times when insomnia will creep in. To reduce the anxiety and pressure around sleep, Carrie finds it helpful to maintain an evening practice that sets the stage for a relaxing night. Write down five wins (big or small) of the day before bed in a journal. What's a better way to enhance your mood?

Surprisingly, another way to feel good about yourself is to put your time and energy in service to others. Do something kind for another person without expectations. "Kindness can shift you out of your own singular perspective, where it’s easy to be consumed by personal obligations and problems, into a place where you remember that we are all in this together!" Carrie Says. There are so many simple ways to do this on an ongoing basis and even more opportunities around the holidays. Among other things, you can adopt a family for gift-giving, help feed the homeless in your community or visit the elderly at a local senior center and sing with them.

Most importantly, during the holidays, be sure to have FUN! If you are feeling overwhelmed by the season, shift your focus to the memories that await you. Plan out some seasonal things to do: go see a local play, bake cookies, play holiday songs on the piano, or be goofy with friends in public and laugh. A little laughter goes a long way.

SOURCE: Joseph, S. (2 December 2018) "How To Stay Sane During The Holidays" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/shelcyvjoseph/2018/12/02/how-to-stay-sane-during-the-holidays/#596473932750


Counting sleep: New benefit encourages employees to track their shut-eye

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that about one-third of U.S. adults reported getting less than the recommended amount of sleep. Read on to learn about a new benefit employees are using to track their sleep.


It’s one of employers’ recurring nightmares: Employees aren’t getting enough sleep — and it’s having a big impact on business.

Roughly one-third of U.S. adults report that they get less than the recommended amount of rest, which is tied to chronic health issues including Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, obesity and depression, the Centers for Disease Control reports.

That lack of sleep is also costing businesses approximately $411 billion a year in lost productivity, according to figures from global policy think tank RAND Corporation.

But one company thinks it has a solution to the problem: A new employee benefit that helps workers track, monitor and improve sleep.

Welltrinsic Sleep Network, a subsidiary of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, this month launched an online sleep wellness program to help workers get more out of their eight hours of shuteye. Employees use the online tool to create a sleep diary, which tracks the quantity and quality of rest, says Dr. Lawrence Epstein, president and CEO of Welltrinsic. Employees manually log their time or upload data from a fitness tracker, like a Fitbit, to the platform.

Employers can offer the program as a benefit to complement broader wellness initiatives. The program allows companies to track how often an employee uses the platform and offer incentives like days off or reduced health insurance premiums if they are consistent, Epstein says. Welltrinsic charges an implementation fee to set up a company’s account, plus a per-user fee determined by the number of participants.

“Sleep affects a lot of aspects of how people feel about their work and their productivity,” Epstein says. “If you can help improve their health and morale, it will help with retaining staff.”

Epstein says lethargic workers are more likely to miss work or not be productive when they are in the office. But there are actionable ways employees can improve the quality of their rest, he adds.

Welltrinsic’s program gives employees a comprehensive review of their sleep. Then employees set a sleep goal — the goal can be as simple as getting to bed at a particular time or improving sleep quality. After employees have logged their data, Welltrinsic provides them with custom tips for improving sleep, which may include reducing light exposure or increasing mindfulness and relaxation.

Still, sometimes an employee may have a more serious issue, Epstein says. If numerous efforts to improve a nighttime ritual have fallen short, an employee may need to be examined for a sleep disorder, he explains. To that end, the program also offers sleep disorder screening tools. If it appears an individual is at risk for a disorder, Welltrinsic provides workers with a list of specialists who can help.

“If we feel they are at risk for a sleep disorder, we can direct them to somebody close to them who will be able to address their problem,” Epstein adds.

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine is providing Welltrinsic’s sleep program as a benefit to its own roughly 60 workers. Meanwhile, Epstein says Welltrinsic recently engaged in a beta test of the program with multiple employers but did provide additional names.

“It’s a way that they can help motivate their employees to improve their own health,” he says.

Epstein doesn’t think that employees are aware that they aren’t getting enough sleep — ­and demanding work schedules aren’t helping. He’s hoping the program will help people realize that sometimes they need to turn off their email and take a rest.

“We are built to spend about a third of our lives sleeping, and there are consequences for not doing that,” he says. “Hopefully this helps get that message and information out to people.”

SOURCE: Hroncich, C. (20 November 2018) "Counting sleep: New benefit encourages employees to track their shut-eye" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/news/counting-sleep-new-benefit-encourages-employees-to-track-their-shut-eye?brief=00000152-1443-d1cc-a5fa-7cfba3c60000


Poor employee health costs employers half trillion dollars a year

Poor employee health costs employers half a trillion dollars each year and almost 1.4 billion in missed work days, according to a recent report from the Integrated Benefits Institute. Read this blog post to learn more.


Poor employee health is costing employers in a big way — to the tune of half a trillion dollars and nearly 1.4 billion days of missed work each year.

That’s according to a new report from the Integrated Benefits Institute, which finds that employees miss around 893 million days a year from illness and chronic conditions, and another 527 million days because of impaired performance due to those illnesses. Those days add up to $530 billion in lost productivity.

“To put this in further context, the cost of poor health to employers is greater than the combined revenues of Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, Netflix, eBay and Adobe,” says Thomas Parry, president of Integrated Benefits Institute, an independent nonprofit that serves more than 1,250 employers including Amazon, Kroger, McDonald’s and Walmart.

The $530 billion price tag is on top of what employers already spend on healthcare benefits. Employers pay $880 billion in healthcare benefits for their employees and dependents, which means that poor health costs amount to “60 cents for every dollar employers spend on healthcare benefits,” according to the study.

“There’s not a CEO or CFO that can placidly accept their business expending the equivalent of almost two-thirds of their healthcare dollars on lost productivity,” Perry says. “Illness costs this country hundreds of billions of dollars, and we can no longer afford to ignore the health of our workforce.”

Employers invest in healthcare benefits to maintain a productive workforce. But this new study suggests that more needs to be done to keep employees healthy, or strategies need to be put in place to lower spending. Or both.

“It’s critical that employers understand how strategies for managing healthcare spend — such as cost- shifting to employees or ensuring better access and more cost-effective care — can impact the kinds of conditions that drive illness-related lost productivity,” says Brian Gifford, director of research and analytics at IBI.

The study broke down the estimated costs of poor health into several categories:

Wage and benefits (incidental absence due to illness, workers’ compensation and federal family and medical leave): $178 billion.

Impaired performance (attributed to chronic health conditions): $198 billion.

Medical and pharmacy (workers’ compensation, employee group health medical treatments, employee group health pharmacy treatments): $48 billion.

Workers’ compensation other costs (absence due to illness, reduced performance): $25 billion.

Opportunity costs of absence (missed revenues, costs of hiring substitutes, overtime): $82 billion.

For its study, IBI used 2017 data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics as well as its own benchmarking data from 66,000 U.S. employers.

SOURCE: Paget, S. (20 November 2018) "Poor employee health costs employers half trillion dollars a year" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/news/poor-employee-health-costs-employers-half-trillion-dollars-a-year?brief=00000152-14a7-d1cc-a5fa-7cffccf00000


Employers Assess Risk Tolerance with Wellness Program Incentives

Are you currently designing your 2019 wellness programs? This year, employers must decide which approach to take on program incentives without EEOC guidance. Read this blog post to learn more.


Employers designing 2019 wellness programs must decide what approach to take on program incentives without Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) guidance on the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA).

The commission has a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking tentatively slated for January 2019. Last year, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia decided the commission's 2016 ADA and GINA wellness regulations were arbitrary and vacated them, effective Jan. 1, 2019.

Employers again are "in the uncomfortable position of not knowing with certainty whether and to what extent they can use incentives as part of a wellness program that involves medical examinations, disability-related inquiries and/or genetic information," wrote Lynne Wakefield and Emily Zimmer, attorneys with K&L Gates in Charlotte, N.C., in a joint statement.

The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) "has long advocated for proposals that will ensure consistency between the wellness rules that the EEOC has jurisdiction over, the ADA and GINA, with those provided under the ACA [Affordable Care Act]," said Nancy Hammer, SHRM vice president, regulatory affairs and judicial counsel. "While EEOC's 2016 rulemaking effort adopted the ACA's 30 percent incentive, it added new requirements that would have discouraged employers from providing wellness options for employees. We are hopeful that the EEOC is able to revisit the rules to ensure both consistency with existing rules and flexibility to encourage employers to adopt innovative programs to improve employee health and reduce costs."

ADA and GINA Requirements

Employers have long sought guidance over whether and when wellness program incentives—rewards or penalties for participating in biometric screenings and health risk assessments connected with the programs—comply with the ADA and GINA.

The ADA prohibits employers from conducting medical examinations and collecting employee medical history as part of an employee health program unless the employee's participation is voluntary, noted Ann Caresani, an attorney with Tucker Ellis in Cleveland and Columbus, Ohio.

GINA prohibits employers from requesting, requiring or purchasing genetic information from employees or their family members, unless the information is provided voluntarily.

The EEOC in 2000 asserted that for a wellness program to be voluntary, employers could not condition the receipt of incentives on the employee's disclosure of ADA- or GINA-protected information.

However, in 2016, the commission issued regulations providing that the use of a penalty or incentive of up to 30 percent of the cost of self-only coverage would not render involuntary a wellness program that seeks the disclosure of ADA-protected information. The regulations also permitted employers to offer incentives of up to 30 percent of the cost of self-only coverage for disclosure of information, in accordance with a wellness program, about the manifestation of a spouse's diseases or disorder, Caresani said.

Wakefield and Zimmer noted that the EEOC's 2016 wellness regulations applied to wellness programs that provided incentives tied to:

  • Biometric screenings for employees and spouses.
  • Disability-related inquiries directed at employees, which might include some questions on health risk assessments.
  • Family medical history questions, such as risk-assessment questions that ask about the manifestation of disease or disorder in an employee's family member and/or such questions about the disease or disorder of an employee's spouse.
  • Any other factors that involve genetic information.

Court Actions

The AARP challenged the 2016 rule, arguing that the 30 percent incentives were inconsistent with the voluntary requirements of the ADA and GINA. Employees who cannot afford to pay a 30 percent increase in premiums would be forced to disclose their protected information when they otherwise would choose not to do so, Caresani explained.

While the 30 percent cap was consistent with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) as amended by the ACA, the AARP said this was inappropriate, as HIPAA and the ADA have different purposes, noted Erin Sweeney, an attorney with Miller & Chevalier in Washington, D.C..

In addition, the change from prohibiting any penalty to permitting one of 30 percent was not supported by any data, according to the AARP.

In the summer of 2017, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia held that the EEOC's rule was arbitrary. The court sent the regulations back to the EEOC for further revisions.

In December 2017, the court vacated the 2016 rule after the EEOC initially said that the new rule would not be ready until 2021.

Conservative to Aggressive Approaches

Wakefield and Zimmer observed that employers may take several different approaches as they design wellness programs for next year:

  • No incentives (most conservative approach). These types of wellness programs can still include biometric screening and health risk assessments that employees and spouses are encouraged to complete, but no rewards or penalties would be provided in connection with their completion.
  • Modest incentives (middle-ground approach). A modest incentive is likely significantly less than 30 percent of the cost of self-only coverage, given the court's finding that the EEOC did not provide adequate justification for an incentive level up to 30 percent.
  • Up to 30 percent incentives (more aggressive approach). Although the court did not rule that a 30 percent incentive level would definitely cause a wellness program to be considered involuntary, incentives at this level after 2018 likely will expose employers to lawsuits, they wrote.

Multiple-Point Program

One good way to demonstrate compliance, they noted, is a multiple-point program in which participants engage in different activities and earn an incentive by participating in enough activities apart from biometric screenings, risk assessments or providing their spouse's health information.

For example, an employer could let employees take health care literacy quizzes or offer a program that measures a worker's activity as opposed to fitness, Caresani noted. She said, "Programs that are participatory are probably less effective than outcome-based programs, but they are more popular with employees and are less likely to pose litigation risks."

SOURCE: Smith, A. (1 August 2018) "Employers Assess Risk Tolerance with Wellness Program Incentives" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/legal-and-compliance/employment-law/pages/risk-tolerance-wellness-program-incentives.aspx


Get Moving...To Live!

Are your employees sitting all day at work? Regardless of who you are and how often you exercise, if you're sitting for long periods of time, your chance of an early death increases. Read on to learn more.


The phrase: “If I’m lying, I’m dying” should be changed to: “If I’m sitting, I’m dying” even though it doesn’t rhyme. If you haven’t heard by now, sitting for long periods of time increases the chance that you’ll die early, regardless of your race, gender, age, body mass index (BMI), or even if you exercise. The longer you sit, the higher your risk of dying sooner rather than later.

See also: 7 wellness program ideas you may want to steal

Every morning, people get ready for work and then sit in their cars (or public transportation), then sit when they get to work, then sit again in their cars, then sit in from of the TV when they get home. It’s time everyone breaks that cycle and starts moving around more during the day and not just when they’re at the gym, assuming they even go.

Fortunately, in an article on CNN’s website titled, “Yes, sitting too long can kill you, even if you exercise,” reveals that taking “movement breaks” every 30 minutes basically cancels out this health problem. But it’s not as simple as just standing, there are two factors impacting this—frequency and duration. How often you sit during the day, and how long you sit each time, have an effect. The article references the American Heart Association’s message of “Sit less, move more,” but admonishes them for not telling people how they should move around, or for how long.

See also: Beyond wellness: Workplace health initiatives that work

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has specific guidelines and recommendations for exercising, but none for sitting. For example, if you sit for 30 minutes, you should probably walk around for at least five minutes before sitting down again. And don’t assume that a “standing desk” is healthier than a traditional desk where you sit down. There isn’t enough evidence to say that a standing desk is better. It’s all about actual movement, which is why simply standing up isn’t enough.

Age is another factor that would seem to make a difference but actually doesn’t. The article discusses age, yet the same principles apply. Older adults who sat more often and for long durations were far more likely to die earlier than those who sat less.

See also: Top 10 Corporate Wellness Habits to Adopt During 2018

The message is clear. Regardless of who you are, what you do for a living, or how “fit” you may be, if you’re not moving around during the day and sitting for fewer than 30 minutes, you’d better get used to the fact that you may not be around as long as you expect, so get moving!

SOURCE: Olson, B. (18 September 2018) "Get Moving...To Live!" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from http://blog.ubabenefits.com/get-moving...to-live