Key elements to consider when researching financial wellness programs

Have you implemented a financial wellness program? With financial wellness programs becoming a staple employee benefit, organizations find themselves implementing programs that only offer a few tools or resources. Read the following blog post for key elements to consider when researching financial wellness programs.


Financial wellness programs are becoming a staple in the employee benefit universe. But what should a successful financial wellness program encompass? As a rapidly growing industry, we often lack a consistent definition for financial wellness. This leads to organizations believing they have implemented a financial wellness program, when they may only be offering a few tools like education or counseling.

I define financial wellness as the process by which an individual can efficiently and accurately assess their financial posture, identify personal goals, and be motivated to gain the necessary knowledge and resources to create behavioral change. Behavioral change will result in improved emotional and mental well-being, along with short- and long-term financial stability.

As the administrator of your company’s benefits, you are responsible for bringing the best possible solution to your employees. That’s a tough ask, given the growing number of service providers. So, what is the most efficient and effective way to assess financial wellness services to determine which solution best fits your organizational needs? Ask yourself these questions:

Does the platform offer a personal assessment of each employee’s current financial situation and help them identify their financial goals? If the answer is yes: Does the assessment return quantifiable and qualifiable data unique to each individual employee?

Does the platform address 100% of your employee base, including the least sophisticated employees at various levels of employment? Much of your ROI from a financial wellness program does not come from your top performers. It comes from creating behavioral changes within your employees who need the most financial guidance.

Does the platform integrate the various components to provide a personalized roadmap for each employee? It should connect program elements like personal assessments, educational resources, tools, feedback and solutions to ensure the employee is presented with a cohesive, comprehensive plan to attack and improve their financial situation.

Does the platform offer solutions for short-term financial challenges like cash flow issues, as well as long-term financial challenges associated with saving and planning? A major return on your investment comes from reduced employee stress, which is substantially driven by short-term needs versus long-term objectives. The program must help employees deal with current financial challenges before they can focus on their longer-term vision.

About 78% of U.S. workers live paycheck to paycheck to make ends meet, according to data from CareerBuilder.com. The need for financial wellness is clear, but there are consistent pillars that must be addressed in any successful financial wellness program to affect change: spend, save, borrow and plan. When evaluating financial wellness programs, it’s important that these dots all connect if you are truly going to motivate behavioral change and recognize the ROI of a comprehensive financial wellness program.

SOURCE: Kilby, D. (13 September 2019) "Key elements to consider when researching financial wellness programs" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/opinion/key-considerations-for-employee-financial-wellness-programs


Survey: What Employees Want Most from Their Workspaces

In 2019, employers across the country are expected to spend an average of $3.6 million on employer-sponsored benefits such as onsite gyms, standing desks, meditation rooms and nursing hotlines. Continue reading this blog post to learn more about what employees want most out of their workspaces.


In an effort to support a healthier and more productive workforce, employers across the country are expected to spend an average of $3.6 million on wellness programs in 2019. Think onsite gyms. Standing desks. Meditation rooms. Nursing hotlines. These are just some of the benefits companies are investing in.

But is any of it paying off?

The results of a recent Harvard study suggest that wellness programs, offered by 80% of large U.S. companies, yield unimpressive results — and our findings mirror this. Future Workplace and View recently surveyed 1,601 workers across North America to figure out which wellness perks matter to them most and how these perks impact productivity.

Surprisingly, we found employees want the basics first: better air quality, access to natural light, and the ability to personalize their workspace. Half of the employees we surveyed said poor air quality makes them sleepier during the day, and more than a third reported up to an hour in lost productivity as a result. In fact, air quality and light were the biggest influencers of employee performance, happiness, and wellbeing, while fitness facilities and technology-based health tools were the most trivial.

Organizations have the power to make improvements in these areas, and they need to, both for their workers and themselves. A high-quality workplace — one with natural light, good ventilation, and comfortable temperatures — can reduce absenteeism up to four days a year.  With unscheduled absenteeism costing companies an estimated $3,600 annually per hourly worker and $2,650 each year for salaried workers, this can have a major impact on your bottom line.

Other research finds that employees who are satisfied with their work environments are 16% more productive, 18% more likely to stay, and 30% more attracted to their company over competitors. Two-thirds of our survey respondents said that a workplace focused on their health and wellbeing would make them more likely to accept a new job or keep the job they have. This means that companies willing to adapt to an employee-centric view of workplace wellness will not only increase their productivity, they will also improve their ability to attract and retain talent.

To get started, here are three steps you can take to improve your work environments and the wellbeing of your employees:

1.  Stop spending money on pointless office perks. A good rule of thumb is to never assume that you know what your employees want — but instead, find ways to ask them. If more employers did, they might put less emphasis on office perks that only a minority of employees will take advantage of (like an onsite gym), and more on changes in the workplace environment that impact all employees (like air quality and access to light).

The number one environmental factor cited in our survey was better air quality. Fifty-eight percent of respondents said that fresh, allergen-free air would improve their wellness. Fifty percent said they would work and feel better with some view of the outdoors, while one third said they would want the ability to adjust the temperature in their workspace. Only one in three survey respondents characterized their office temperature as ideal.

Noise distractions bothered more than a third of those surveyed, impacting their ability to concentrate. Employees said sounds like phones ringing, typing on keyboards, and distractions from coworkers all impacted their concentration.

Almost half of our respondents wanted to see their companies improve these environmental factors, and in many instances, more than they wanted to be offered office perks. The first step, then, is to take a look at where you are spending your money, and consider cutting expenses that aren’t worth the cost.

2. Personalize when possible. We’ve all gotten used to personalizing our outside-of-work lives. We binge the shows we want to watch and listen to the music we like to hear, even if our partners or friends have different preferences. We adjust our thermostats without having to get up off our couches, and dim our lights to our level of satisfaction.

Employees are beginning to expect these same privileges in the workplace. Our survey revealed that employees, by a margin of 42% to 28%, would rather be able to personalize their work environment than opt for unlimited vacation. Specifically, what employees want to personalize:

  • Workspace temperature: Nearly half want an app that will let them set the temperature in their workspace.
  • Overhead and desk lighting: One-third wants to control their overhead and desk lighting, as well as the levels of natural light streaming in.
  • Noise levels: One-third would like to “soundscape” their workspace.

While these asks may sound exclusive to the personal offices of higher-ups — they’re not. Hewlett Packard Enterprise headquarters is just one example of a company that has managed to help employees control the noise level in an open floor plan. Their building was actually designed to manage ambient sound in order to reduce worker distractions. Some companies like Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, have gone a step further, allowing employees to control the amount of natural light streaming in through the glass of their office windows with a cell phone app.

But for organizations that don’t want to invest in a completely new building, there is a more organic route. Cisco, for example, has managed the acoustic levels in their space by creating a floor plan without assigned seating that includes neighborhoods of workspaces designed specifically for employees collaborating in person, remotely, or those who choose to work alone.

This same strategy applies to light or temperature. You can position employees who want a higher temperature and more light around the edge of your floor plan, and those who like it quieter and cooler in the core.

3. Create a holistic view of workplace wellness. When deciding what changes to make to your organization, remember that workplace wellness is not just about the physical health of your employees. It includes physical wellness, emotional wellness, and environmental wellness. To create a truly healthy work environment, you must take all three of these areas into consideration:

  • Emotional wellness: Give employees access to natural light, and quiet rooms where they can comfortably focus on their work.
  • Physical wellness: Provide people with healthy food options, and ergonomically designed work stations.
  • Environmental wellness: Make sure your workspaces have adequate air quality, light, temperature, and proper acoustics.

Companies that adapt to a more holistic view of workplace wellness will soon realize no one department alone can solve the puzzle. Our study results, along with the results from the World Green Building Council report, push organizations to take a closer look at what changes they can make that will actually matter. My suggestion: consider how you can get back to the basics employees want, and invest in the core areas that will have the most impact.

SOURCE: Meister, J. (27 August 19) "Survey: What Employees Want Most from Their Workspaces"(Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2019/08/survey-what-employees-want-most-from-their-workspaces


The case for expanding wellness beyond the physical

New data from Optum and the National Business Group on Health is revealing how wellness programs affect job performance. Will addressing mental health, financial wellness and substance abuse in the workplace help employees feel fulfilled both personally and professionally? Read this blog post from Employee Benefits Advisor to learn more about expanding wellness programs.


Client's wellness programs that only focus on physical fitness may need to rethink their approach.

By expanding wellness offerings to include programs that support workers’ mental and financial wellness, employer clients can increase the overall wellbeing of their workforce. Newly released data from Optum and the National Business Group on Health shows that employees who are offered programs that address most or all of the five aspects of wellbeing — physical, mental, financial, social and community — are significantly more likely to say their job performance is excellent, have a positive impression of their employer, and recommend their company as a place to work.

Over the last decade, workplace wellness initiatives have evolved beyond health risk assessments, physical fitness and nutrition programs. Many programs now include resources to address mental health, financial wellness and substance abuse.

“[Employers] must commit to looking beyond clinical health outcomes,” says Chuck Gillespie, CEO of the National Wellness Institute, speaking at a webcast from the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans. “You want employees to be fulfilled both personally and professionally.”

Even though some clients address financial, social and community health, most still focus on physical and mental health.

However, there are benefit trends that address wellness beyond physical fitness. The emergence of financial wellness benefits — such as early pay access, student loan assistance and retirement saving plans — may help employees feel less stressed and more financially secure, which has shown to improve overall health.

But having a good wellness program in place isn’t enough — employers also have to make sure that the offerings are inclusive and personalized, and that the programs have successful participation and engagement rates.

“These programs need to be adapted to who you are,” Gillespie says. “Customization has to be a key factor of what you’re looking at, because everybody is not going to fit inside your box.”

Effective wellness programs use both health and wellness data points and best practices, while keeping an eye on developing trends. Multi-dimensional wellness — looking at aspects such as social and community — can help companies understand the needs of their employees better.

“Employers need to better recognize personal choices, and if the employees are in an environment where they are functioning optimally,” Gillespie says. “Smokers hang out with smokers; the cultural foods that you eat with family may not be nutritious; is there social isolation; do you contribute to your community. [Most benefits] are work-oriented, but for most people, their life is their home life. It’s important to look at the degrees of which you feel positive and enthusiastic about your work and life.”

SOURCE: Nedlund, E. (15 August, 2019) "The case for expanding wellness beyond the physical" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/news/the-case-for-expanding-wellness-beyond-the-physical


The “Official” Lowdown on Physical Activity

Are you looking for wellness tips and information on staying active? The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans is the official voice of authority when it comes to physical activity and health. Continue reading this blog post for guidelines and recommendations from the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans.


You can read fitness magazines or online blogs, get tips from friends and neighbors, or make up your own rules and regimens for staying active. But when the federal government speaks, you should probably listen.

The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans is the voice of authority when it comes to physical activity and health. The guidelines are based on scientific evidence and provide recommendations for Americans of all ages. The second edition of these guidelines came out in 2018 and includes some intriguing facts:

  • About half of all American adults have at least one chronic disease.
  • Seventy percent of the most common of these diseases can be improved by physical activity.
  • A full 80 percent of adults aren’t getting the aerobic and muscle-strengthening activity recommended.
  • This lack of activity has been linked to 10 percent of premature deaths.

Yikes! Not good, right? If this gets your attention and you’d like to up your activity level, here are the top recommendations from the guide:

  • Kids ages 3 - 5 should be active at least 3 hours a day.
  • Kids 6 - 17 should strive for at least an hour of moderate to vigorous activity per day. This should include aerobic activity (anything that speeds up heart rate) and muscle-strengthening activities. This activity has been shown to help with things like bone health, heart health and even learning.
  • Adults need at least 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity activity per week and at least two days of muscle-strengthening activity (lifting weights, push-ups). Physical activity brings immediate health benefits, like lowering blood pressure and improving sleep. Over time, physical activity can lower the risk of heart disease, diabetes, dementia, weight gain, and eight different cancers, among other health risks. It also helps improve overall quality of life.
  • For people who already have a health condition, physical activity can help with pain, slow the disease’s progress, keep depression and anxiety at bay, and improve brain function for people with Alzheimer’s disease, MS, Parkinson’s, and other conditions.

When it comes to government, you might not like everything you hear and read. But for the real scoop on activity levels and health, our friends in Washington seem to know what’s best. Remember, any activity is better than none, so get out of your chair, step away from your desk, or otherwise get moving!

Source: Health.gov. Physical activity guidelines for Americans, 2nd edition. health.gov/paguidelines/second-edition/10things (Accessed 6/20/19)

SOURCE: Olson, B. (14th August, 2019). "The “Official” Lowdown on Physical Activity" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from: http://blog.ubabenefits.com/lowdown-on-physical-activity


It’s time to incorporate cancer screenings into your wellness program

About a third of the eligible population has never been screen or are not up-to-date with the cancer screening guidelines. According to the National Cancer Institute, newer FDA-approved novel immunotherapies have shown to be beneficial responses to colorectal cancer, but at staggering costs that can be upward of $400,000 per year. Read this blog post to learn more about incorporating cancer screenings in corporate wellness programs.


Scott Wilson, an employee at brewing company Molson Coors in Denver, was diagnosed with stage four metastatic colorectal cancer in 2016 — a disease that would cost him upward of $1.3 million to date, with significant dollars paid out for non-covered medical expenses.

As a consequence of a later-stage diagnosis, colon and liver resections were necessary coupled with aggressive treatment using chemotherapy and Vectobix — a newer and costly immunotherapy that is priced at $8,000 per week. On average, more than 40,000 people undergo treatment for metastatic colorectal cancer each year and the cost of treatment varies depending on the stage at diagnosis, treatment response and plan.

The availability of newer FDA-approved novel immunotherapies have shown to be beneficial responses to this deadly cancer, but at staggering costs that can be upward of $400,000 per year at market introduction, according to the National Cancer Institute.

Today, about 60% of diagnosed colorectal cases are discovered in later stage disease due to under-screening — a third of the eligible population have never been screened or are not up-to-date with screening guidelines. As a result, about 140,000 Americans are diagnosed with any stage of colorectal cancer and about 51,000 people die of this cancer annually. A recent study examined 1,750 colorectal cancer deaths from 2006 to 2012 in the Kaiser Permanente Health System — 76% of those deaths occurred in patients who were never screened or were not up-to-date with screening.

Cancer screening in the workplace

Last year, the American Cancer Society lowered the colorectal cancer screening age to 45 based on the rising rates of cancer trending in younger age populations — other cancer organization’s recommendations remain at age 50. Employers are in a unique position to reinforce and support these national recommendations among their employees.

Employees between 50 and 65 years of age have the lowest screening rates for colorectal cancer screening, and are typically covered by employer-sponsored health plans. Employers find offering cancer screening programs that reward participation via health and wellness programs are reducing disease risk and financial burdens for themselves and their employees.

The costs for treatment of cancer are more than double the rate of other healthcare expenses. For an employer, the impact of a late versus an early stage diagnosis is significant. National expenditures for treatment and care of colorectal cancer are second only to breast cancer.

In people age 65 and younger, the U.S spends in excess of $7.4 billion for treatment of colorectal cancer. For those employees diagnosed with any stage of colorectal cancer, a large percentage of costs are paid out by company-sponsored health plans despite the implementation of high-deductible health plans.

It would seem prudent to institute a screening initiative to find cancer early in your employee populations, or prevent it altogether by supporting screening for preventable cancers. Employees who test positive are referred by their physician for diagnostic colonoscopy to determine if colorectal cancer is present or to remove precancerous polyps or lesions. The intangible costs associated with cancer is the time off of work for treatment and lost productivity.

Most companies administer a wellness program for employees and families, like Molson Coors, but only about 20% offer colorectal cancer screening. Incorporating a blood test as a preventive cancer screening strategy alongside workplace wellness programs can get employees up-to-date with screening recommendations. Employers who are interested in instituting a colorectal cancer screening program in the office should consider the following suggestions.

Incorporate CRC screening into wellness programs. Screenings provide the opportunity to identify risks early and can bridge the gap between doctor office visits for employees who do not see their providers on a regular or annual basis.

Partner with third-party administrators. Third party administration services can ensure HIPAA regulations are followed for privacy. TPAs also will arrange for the delivery of results.

Create communications campaigns. Target your messaging to those eligible for colorectal cancer screening and make sure to cite the correct statistics for benefits and risk.

Reward participation. Participation is shown to increase when incentives are provided to reward participation. Decide what incentives work for your employees – PTO, financial rewards, gym memberships, coupons or gift cards.

Follow up. Plan for next steps based on employee screenings. Results should be provided in a timely manner to enable employees.

Wilson, the Molson Coors employee, remains in remission for nearly 20 months. He’s since devoted his time to advocate for access to colorectal cancer screening, especially in the workplace. Wilson recently joined the Colorectal Cancer Alliance organization as a board member, a non-profit dedicated to reducing the incidence of colorectal cancer through their many efforts aimed at prevention and awareness. He also wrote a book, “Through the Window: A Photographic Tale of Cancer Recovery” for the alliance. Wilson has been an advocate for the vital need for employee access and employer support for CRC screening in the workplace.

SOURCE: Childers, P. (27 June 2019) "It’s time to incorporate cancer screenings into your wellness program" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/add-cancer-screenings-to-wellness-programs


Giving onsite clinics an engagement booster shot

Are you offering wellness services and programs in efforts to reduce healthcare spend and increase health? Two 2018 National Association of Worksite Health Centers’ studies show that close to 50 percent of large firms are now operating worksite clinics. Read this blog post to learn more about increasing engagement in onsite clinics.


Employers of all sizes and industries are currently offering a variety of wellness services that include preventive, acute, primary, chronic disease and occupational healthcare programs at or near the worksite. These benefits are intended to reduce healthcare spend, increase the population’s health and productivity and positively impact recruitment and retention efforts.

In fact, according to two 2018 studies by the National Association of Worksite Health Centers, more than one-third of all employers and close to 50% of large firms are now operating worksite clinics. But just because employers offer such benefits doesn’t mean employees will take advantage of these services, even when they’re free.

But many employers are frustrated to find that 20% or less of the targeted or covered workers utilizes their programs — with millions of dollars in benefits wasted.

Failure can be caused by lack of promotion, inadequate incentives, poor communications or providers who don’t fit into the culture of the employer. However, one of the most significant problems than can undermine a benefit program, especially a worksite clinic, is when employees don’t trust that their personal health data will be confidential and fear it will be used for employment decisions.

Employers who achieve high benefit utilization build the foundation for success by informing their workforce, prior to a benefit or clinic being available and on an ongoing basis, of the many federal and state confidentiality and privacy laws that dictate who can receive personal and occupational health information and the limitations placed on employers.

Communications, posters, presentations and other marketing vehicles must assure employees that the employer will only see aggregate, not personal data from the offered benefit programs. Emphasize that the program’s or clinic’s medical providers will be the only individuals dealing with this information, and that by law they are legally and ethically obligated to keep this confidential.

Understanding the culture and labor-management dynamics of an organization are also critical to building trust. To increase use, it’s often best to market the program or facility under a new brand name, such as “The Healthy Life” or use the name of the provider who manages the program or clinic, rather than the employer’s name.

The physical design or location of a benefit program or clinic also needs to be kept in mind. Clinical or counseling activities should be separate from business offices or fitness centers where a person taking advantage of the benefit could be seen by their peers, managers and supervisors.

Achieving engagement in a health benefit program or clinic is key to its success, as well as obtaining the resources and support of senior management for its expansion and continuance. The design, marketing and location of benefit programs need to be well-planned so the workforce is confident that the confidentiality of their patient records will be maintained and not used for employment decisions.

SOURCE: Boress, L. (9 July 2019) "Giving onsite clinics an engagement booster shot" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/how-to-increase-employee-engagement-in-healthcare-benefits


Workplace Wellness Programs Barely Move The Needle, Study Finds

Workplace wellness programs do not cut costs for employers, reduce absenteeism or improve workers' health, according to a recent study from JAMA. Continue reading this blog post to learn about this recent study and workplace wellness programs.


Workplace wellness programs have become an $8 billion industry in the U.S. But a study published Tuesday in JAMA found they don’t cut costs for employers, reduce absenteeism or improve workers’ health.

Most large employers offer some type of wellness program — with growth fueled by incentives in the federal Affordable Care Act.

A host of studies over the years have provided conflicting results about how well they work, with some showing savings and health improvements while others say the efforts fall short.

Many studies, however, faced a number of limitations, such as failing to have a comparison group, or figuring out whether people who sign up for such wellness programs are somehow healthier or more motivated than those who do not.

Now researchers from the University of Chicago and Harvard may have overcome these obstacles with one of the first large-scale studies that is peer-reviewed and employs a more sophisticated trial design.

They randomly assigned 20 BJ’s Wholesale Club outlets to offer a wellness program to all employees, then compared results with 140 stores that did not.

The big-box retailer employed nearly 33,000 workers across all 160 clubs during the test.

After 18 months, it turned out that yes, workers participating in the wellness programs self-reported healthier behavior, such as exercising more or managing their weight better than those not enrolled.

But the efforts did not result in differences in health measures, such as improved blood sugar or glucose levels; how much employers spent on health care; or how often employees missed work, their job performance or how long they stuck around in their jobs.

“The optimistic interpretation is there is no way we can get improvements in health or more efficient spending if we don’t’ first have changes in health behavior,” said one study author, Katherine Baicker, dean of the Harris School of Public Policy at the University of Chicago. (Dr. Zirui Song, an assistant professor of health policy and medicine at Harvard Medical School, was its co-author.)

“But if employers are offering these programs in hopes that health spending and absenteeism will go down, this study should give them pause,” Baicker said.

The study comes amid widespread interest in wellness programs.

The Kaiser Family Foundation’s annual survey of employers found that 53% of small firms and 82% of large firms offer a program in at least one of these areas: smoking cessation, weight management and behavioral or lifestyle change. (Kaiser Health News is an editorially independent program of the foundation.)

Some programs are simple, offering gift cards or other small incentives to fill out a health risk assessment, take a lunch-and-learn class or join a gym or walking group. Others are far more invasive, asking employees to report on a variety of health-related questions and roll up their sleeves for blood tests.

A few employers tie financial incentives to workers actually lowering risk factors, such as high blood pressure or cholesterol — or making concerted efforts to participate in programs that might help them do so over time.

The Affordable Care Act allowed employers to offer financial incentives worth up to 30% of the cost of health insurance, leading some employers to offer what could be hundreds or even thousands of dollars off workers’ deductibles or premiums to get them to participate. That led to court challenges about whether those programs are truly voluntary.

In the study reported in JAMA, the incentives were modest. Participants got small-dollar gift cards for taking wellness courses on topics such as nutrition, exercise, disease management and stress control. Total potential incentives averaged $250. About 35% of eligible employees at the 20 participating sites completed at least one module.

Results from those workers — including attendance and tenure data, their self-reported health assessment and results from lab blood tests — were specifically compared with similar reports from 20 primary comparison sites where workers were not offered the wellness gift cards and classes. Overall employment and health spending data from all worksites were included in the study.

Wellness program vendors said details matter when considering whether efforts will be successful.

Jim Pshock, founder and CEO of Bravo Wellness, said the incentives offered to BJ’s workers might not have been large enough to spur the kinds of big changes needed to affect health outcomes.

Amounts of “of less than $400 generally incentivize things people were going to do anyway. It’s simply too small to get them to do things they weren’t already excited about,” he said.

An accompanying editorial in JAMA noted that “traditional, broad-based programs like the one analyzed by Song and Baicker may lack the necessary intensity, duration, and focus on particular employee segments to generate significant effects over a short time horizon.”

In other words, don’t give up entirely on wellness efforts, but consider “more targeted approaches” that focus on specific workers with higher risks or on “health behaviors [that] may yield larger health and economic benefits,” the editorial suggested.

It could be, the study acknowledges, that 18 months isn’t enough time to track such savings. So, Baicker and Song also plan to publish three-year results once they are finalized.

Still, similar findings were recently reported in another randomized control trial conducted at the University of Illinois, where individuals were randomly selected to be offered wellness programs.

In one interesting point, that study found that wellness-program participants were likely already healthier and more motivated, “thus a primary benefit of these programs to employers may be their potential to attract and retain healthy workers with low medical spending.”

Everyone involved in studying or conducting wellness agrees on one thing: Changing behavior — and getting people motivated to participate at all — can be difficult.

Steven Aldana, CEO of WellSteps, a wellness program vendor, said that for the efforts to be successful they must cut across many areas, from the food served in company cafeterias to including spouses or significant others to help people quit smoking, eat better or exercise more.

“Behavior is more complicated than simply taking a few wellness modules,” said Aldana. “It’s a lifestyle matrix or pattern you have to adopt.”

SOURCE: Appleby, J. (16 April 2019) "Workplace Wellness Programs Barely Move The Needle, Study Finds" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://khn.org/news/workplace-wellness-programs-barely-move-the-needle-study-finds/


Digital health revolution: What we’ve learned so far

The effectiveness of digital health devices is being called into question by recent studies. Digital health devices provide personalized feedback to users, helping improve their health. Read this blog post to learn more.


The promise of the digital health revolution is tantalizing: a multitude of connected devices providing personalized feedback to help people improve their health. Yet, some recent studies have called into question the effectiveness of these resources.

While still evolving, many compelling use-cases are starting to emerge for digital health, including a set of best practices that can help guide the maturation of this emerging field. In the near future, many people may gain access to individual health records, a modern medical record that curates information from multiple sources, including electronic health records, pharmacies and medical claims, to help support physicians in care delivery through data sharing and evidence-based guidelines.

As these advances become a reality, here are several digital health strategies employers, employees and healthcare innovators should consider.

Micro-behavior change.

Part of the power of digital health is the ability to provide people with actionable information about their health status and behavior patterns. As part of that, some of the most successful digital health programs are demonstrating an ability to encourage daily “micro-behavior change” that, over time, may contribute to improved health outcomes and lower costs. For instance, wearable device walking programs can remind people to move consistently throughout the day, while offering objective metrics showcasing actual activity patterns and, ideally, reinforcing positive habits to support sustained change. Technology that encourages seemingly small healthy habits — each day — can eventually translate to meaningful improvements.

Clinical interventions.

Big data is a buzz word often associated with digital health, but the use of analytics and technology is only meaningful as part of a holistic approach to care. Through programs that incorporate clinical intervention and support by care providers, the true value of digital health can be unlocked to help make meaningful differences in people’s well-being. For instance, new programs are featuring connected asthma inhalers that use wirelessly enabled sensors to track adherence rates, including frequency and dosage, and relay that information to healthcare professionals. Armed with this tangible data, care providers can counsel patients more effectively on following recommended treatments. Rather than simply giving consumers the latest technologies and sending them along, these innovations can be most effective when integrated with a holistic care plan.

Real-time information.

One key advantage of digital resources, such as apps or websites, is the ability to provide real-time information, both to consumers and healthcare professionals. This can help improve how physicians treat people, enabling for more customized recommendations based on personal health histories and a patient’s specific health plan. For instance, new apps are enabling physicians to know which medications are covered by a person’s health plan and recommend lower-cost alternatives (if available) before the patient actually leaves the office. The ability to access real-time information — and act on it — can be crucial in the effort to use technology to empower healthcare providers and patients.

Financial incentives.

Nearly everyone wants to be healthy, but sometimes people need a nudge to take that first step toward wellness. To help drive that engagement, the use of financial incentives is becoming more widespread by employers and health plans, with targeted and structured rewards proving most effective. From using mobile apps and comparison shopping for healthcare services to encouraging expectant women to use a website to follow recommended prenatal and post-partum appointments, financial incentives can range from nominal amounts (such as gift cards) to hundreds of dollars per year. Coupling digital health resources with financial rewards can be an important step in getting — and keeping — people engaged.

The digital health market will continue to grow, with some studies estimating that the industry will exceed $379 billion by 2024. To make the most of these resources, healthcare innovators will be well served to take note of these initial concepts.

SOURCE: Madsen, R. (14 March 2019) "Digital health revolution: What we’ve learned so far" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/digital-health-revolution-what-weve-learned-so-far?brief=00000152-14a5-d1cc-a5fa-7cff48fe0001


Workout - Girl - Stretching - Pixabay

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


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/