Even smaller firms tell her they’d like to offer a wellness program but can’t afford one, Givens suggests “a cafeteria approach, start small and build as you see results.”
Piantedosi said a baseline wellness program for small employers costs about $2.50 per employee per month. For that, each employee gets a health assessment of body weight, blood pressure, cholesterol and other factors. Then comes a web portal with password protection for each employee. Each can tap into online health assessments, monthly campaigns and goals and an online medical library. A tracking system measures progress for individual campaigns such as weight loss or smoking cessation. There’s an 800-number to call a health coach for advice.
Givens’ SlimKinetics set up the program for Vigilent, Housley’s firm.
“Employee health should be a performance measure that companies should look at, just like sales quotas, and should be rewarded just like any other,” she said.
A good business strategy is one that accounts for many purposes, said Housley, Vigilent’s chief executive. “We’re not just doing a job here, we’re building something of value. A healthier team improves the value of the business and the more closely the interests of the employee are aligned with those of the owner, the more valuable the property, I think.”
Housley sees his employees’ wellness as a competitive advantage, Givens said. “He can’t afford to have anyone out sick. Everyone is too valuable. In a small company everyone makes a difference, and keeping them productive is the most important result of a wellness program.”
Lisa Bailey’s firm, Health Promotions Management in Broomfield, Colo., has been in the wellness business for nearly 28 years. The Myron Stratton home has been a client for four years.
They came to Bailey because they wanted to contain health care costs without impacting employees with increased co-pays, deductibles or premiums. Each year, HPM sets up new goals and programs. If an employee participates in three of six, and gets an annual health screening, their deductible is cut in half.
As a result, said Bailey, the rise in claims is down; just 4.7 percent annually, compared to an average 15 percent before the program began. In addition, 77 percent of the employees reduced their deductibles and 40 percent exceeded the minimum level of participation.
“Cash is king,” Bailey said. “By tying participation to premiums, they’ve moved the needle on health care costs and productivity. When health risks among your employees decrease, a decrease in health care costs will follow.”
Employees are tuning into their health who weren’t before, said Mark Turk, executive director of the Myron Stratton Home. “We’ve been able to contain health-care costs without increasing contributions or changing our benefit design. And we’ve experienced a positive impact on employee morale.”
Piantedosi thinks it’ll take 20 years for employers to integrate wellness programs with other standard benefits.
“It took 40 years for the percentage of people who smoke to drop significantly, even though we’ve long known the benefits of quitting,” he said.
But the migration is inevitable, Piantedosi added.
“We as a nation spent $2.6 trillion on health care last year and half of that went to treating chronic conditions, many of which could have been prevented by better lifestyle choices,” he said. “It’s not going to take too long in this cash-strapped environment for people to realize that if we can control chronic conditions we can save a boatload of money.”