Controlling health care costs Featured

8:00pm EDT October 26, 2007

While there may be many keys to the success of your business, it’s no secret that one of the bestinvestments you can make is in your employees’ health and well-being.

Most companies have diverse employee populations with different health care needs. But one thing that all employees need to reach their personal best health is a comprehensive, innovative wellness program. If employees feel like their employer really cares about them, it will show in both employee satisfaction and retention.

But living a healthy lifestyle and achieving and maintaining an optimal state of health often depends on having the right information. That’s why delivering the right information to employees is essential.

“Small business owners have a responsibility to help their employees improve their health,” says Bill Berenson, senior vice president of Aetna’s Small and Middle Market Business for the North Central Region. “Wellness programs that give employees information and resources to enhance their health and well-being are an important way of carrying out that responsibility.”

Smart Business spoke with Berenson about wellness programs.

What are the features of a wellness program?

A wellness program can offer employees a wide variety of services such as discounts on memberships at fitness clubs or home exercise equipment, weight loss or weight management programs, smoking cessation programs, and discounts on alternative health care options, such as herbal and natural remedies, vitamins and nutritional supplements, as well as massage and acupuncture therapy. These discount programs are not insurance, but are free, added features to many insurance plans.

How can employees take advantage of wellness programs?

Employees shouldn’t underestimate the benefits of wellness offered in an employer-sponsored wellness program. One of the primary functions of health benefits is to help keep employees healthy. Employees should check to see if their plan covers annual checkups and well-woman and well-child visits. They should also check for coverage or discounts for exercise programs, smoking cessation clinics, flu shots and mental health services.

Improving our health has both immediate and long-term quality of life benefits because good health is one of the most important assets we take into our retirement years.

How can employers focus on keeping employees healthy and productive?

We believe that an integrated, total management approach is the most effective approach. We’ve seen promising results from our integration of medical, pharmacy, disability, and behavioral health benefits and programs. These programs have helped employers improve the health and productivity of their employees and reduce medical costs.

How should employees be informed about these programs?

It is important that employees be aware of programs that could be helpful to their individual, personal needs. This can be achieved by having employees complete an optional, secure health risk assessment. After completing this assessment, employees can receive a personalized action plan that points them toward programs that are specifically relevant to them. This type of targeted outreach improves the likelihood of employees taking advantage of the services that are available to them.

How can employers benefit from a wellness program?

Wellness programs and discounts won’t just help employees get healthier — they will also help maintain the ‘health’ of a successful business. Programs that promote good health can impact worker satisfaction and productivity. They can also reduce costs related to health benefit claims, sick leave, absenteeism, disability and workers’ compensation, making them an important recruiting and retention tool.

Good health is the most important driver of good quality of life. And in most cases, with a little work, it can be preserved throughout much of our lives. We encourage employees to view their health as an important, lifelong asset that they have the power to enhance and protect by getting routine preventive care and adopting healthy behaviors.

BILL BERENSON is senior vice president of Aetna’s Small and Middle Market Business for the North Central Region. Reach him at (312) 928-3323 or berensonw@aetna.com.