How a more engaged approach to wellness provides multiple benefits

Employers are taking a more engaged role in helping employees lead healthier lives. Momentum is building to encourage workers to get regular health screenings and to provide support for those who wish to quit smoking, get more exercise or take action in other areas.

“It started out as strictly a financial decision,” says Paul J. Baranowski, CLU, ChFC, vice president of account management and services at Benefitdecisions, Inc.

“Taking these steps will reduce health care costs. Fortunately, it can grow into more than that. It’s not just good for the health plan budget, but it’s good for productivity, increasing employee engagement and reducing absenteeism.”

Today’s employees are faced with more work and fewer resources to do it, so the challenge for many companies is to find time for people to get these screenings done and become more involved in their health and well-being.

Smart Business spoke with Baranowski about what you can do to make being healthy a priority in your workforce.

What changed for employers with regard to health care screenings?

The data has become more empirical and employers are more accepting that there is a bottom-line benefit to encouraging wellness. Early adopters are sharing testimonials about how health care costs have trended better since they began to develop wellness programs and encourage regular screenings.

More importantly than just a hard cost focus, employers are taking a more holistic approach with the understanding that wellness affects everything. They are willing to spend money for tangible programs to drive behavior that is not just good for the organization, but also for the individual.

How do companies create the time for employees to participate?

You need to make it a higher priority. Bring the screening process to your company and explain that work is going to stop to allow time for your people to participate. If someone doesn’t participate, ask for an explanation.

In addition to the screenings, you can bring programs such as exercise or wellness educational classes to your workplace for a minimal cost. Insurance carriers have all begun to build up their wellness and preventive care departments in order to drive behavior more efficiently in this area. Some will provide a direct-dollar subsidy toward purchasing wellness services whether it’s from the carrier or through an outside vendor.

Carriers and employers are also allowing  workplace wellness screenings to be paid through as a claim, which then allows tracking so you can build a targeted campaign specifically around a condition.

What about the issue of employee privacy?

This is a bit of a pain point for employees and uncomfortable for employers. Most employees see these steps as a positive for everyone involved because the worst-case outcome is for someone to not take care of themselves and end up in a bad way because they failed to go get a simple blood test. The flip side is some folks take the position that it’s an invasion of their privacy.

This is certainly a sensitive area and the position the employer can take is to welcome an alternative method.

Let employees obtain the screening through their personal doctor. That way the employee is still receiving the benefits that they obtain from the screening results as well as potential discounts on their health plan premiums. It’s a win-win for all parties. Younger folks are more comfortable with others knowing and using personal health information for their benefit. Many times employees will begin to buy in to the process, once they receive a screening that warns them that worse health issues could be forthcoming if they don’t change their behaviors.

What is the estimated return on investment for health care screenings?

For every dollar spent, most estimates are anywhere from $3 to $7 return. Just helping one person to avoid a catastrophic event could save thousands in one person’s claim costs, let alone the productivity savings. So not only are you saving a life, but financially, you’re easily a winner.