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Workplace Wellness Programs Proliferate

Despite a lack of evidence to show a return on investment, health and wellness programs in the workplace are now common, according to the Center for Studying Health System Change. For more details about how employers are encouraging employees to sign up or continue with their wellness program, see our Outlook column on page 56.

The driving force for these initiatives has come from large employers looking for long-term strategies to address rising costs and to give employees more responsibility for health care decisions and costs, according to “Health and Wellness Initiatives: The Shift From Managing Illness to Promoting Health.”

“We heard from employers and health plans that health and wellness activities are the right thing to do,” says HSC senior fellow Debra A. Draper, PhD, coauthor of the study.

The investment payoff for these programs has been difficult to demonstrate. Several health plan respondents said in the report that “it takes at least three to five years to have sufficient information to determine return on investment. Because many of the health and wellness activities in existence today have only been introduced recently and not yet evaluated, there is little credible evidence regarding return on investment.”

Health plans are also packaging, branding, and marketing health and wellness initiatives as a way to differentiate themselves in the crowded market.

Since health and wellness activities are voluntary, engaging enrollees is a challenge. Some type of incentive is needed to get employees to begin and to continue participating in the programs. Incentives include small cash payments to complete a health risk assessment, gift cards, discounts on gym memberships, and payment to participate in weight management programs.

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