Motivating employees to meet their wellness goals

A lot of us get health benefits through our workplace, and employers are increasingly turning to wellness programs as a means of reducing costs and improving productivity.

In the coming year, as aspects of the Affordable Care Act take effect, many employers will provide even greater incentives for participation in programs that require the employee to achieve certain wellness goals, such as smoking cessation or weight loss.

What this means for the employee is that they may see anywhere from 30% to 50% of their costs being paid out in incentives to motivate them to participate in these programs.

There are significant statistics to support the cost benefits of engaging consumers in healthier lifestyles. In fact, a study published last year in the journal Health Affairs estimated that medical costs could be reduced by $3.27 for every dollar spent on wellness. The same study showed that for every dollar spent on wellness programs, costs related to absenteeism and loss of productivity fell by approximately $2.73.

This week a small employer announced that if employees don’t receive flu shots they run the risk of being fired. Although this may seem unusually aggressive, the statistics of the potential savings are often a motivating factor for employers to take such a stance.

Preventable diseases such as type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure represent another significant portion of an employer’s healthcare costs – about 8% or 9% — can be attributed to preventable conditions such as Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, asthma, depression, high-risk pregnancy, and low back pain. The benefit to not only the employer, but to overall healthcare costs for the country as a whole, could be dramatically improved if consumers took advantage of the new opportunities that are available under the Affordable Care Act.

Many services that are designed to prevent disease are now available without a copayment as a means of encouraging consumers to take advantage of these new opportunities. As an example, adults can now get screening for colorectal cancer, obesity counseling, and smoking cessation. Women now have access to screening for gestational diabetes and wellness visits during pregnancy as well.

As the workplace will continue to be a central focus for where we obtain our health benefits, it will be increasingly important for employees as consumers to better educate themselves on what is available to help reduce costs and improve health outcomes for themselves, their employers, and society as a whole.

Sreedhar Potarazu is an ophthalmologist and founder and CEO of Vital Spring Technologies

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