Wellness programs can indeed save money overall with an approach that includes spreading the efforts out over several years (at least) and offering incentives for participants, according to a study in the American Journal of Health Promotion.
The study looks at results from a health and productivity management (HPM) program at a large financial services corporation from 2005 to 2007. The results were computed by a review of medical and prescription claims data for about 50,000 employees. The three-year ROI was 2.45:1, but the program did not begin saving money until the second year. There were different approaches, including managing of lifestyle, disease, and depression, as well as access to a nurse hot line.
Participation in any of these in the first year averaged 18 percent. With the inclusion of incentives in the second and third years, participation increased to 64 percent and 77 percent, respectively.
The study says that “participants’ medical costs grew $35.48 more in year 1 than nonparticipants.’ However, in years 2 and 3, their medical costs grew $39.50 and $30.55 less than nonparticipants’, respectively.”
The program was intense. For instance, for lifestyle management, eight risk areas were addressed: weight, physical activity, nutrition, stress, cholesterol, blood pressure, smoking, and back care.
The DM aspect targeted members with asthma, coronary artery disease, diabetes, chronic low back pain, COPD, heart failure, and stroke. The program featured “external health management consultants who gave strategic assistance throughout the life of the program. Ongoing vendor management and collaboration were a focal point of the company’s program, and weekly calls were conducted with all vendors to discuss ongoing integration touch points and to proactively address issues.”