Chronic diseases like heart disease, cancer, stroke, and diabetes cause 70% of deaths in the US these days… absorbing 75% of the $2.5T spent on annual medical care costs.  When it comes to employee healthcare expenses- the indirect costs of poor health like absenteeism, disability, and reduced work output can be several times higher than direct medical costs.  In fact, productivity losses from health problems cost employers $1,685 per employee per year! 

One of the provisions in the Affordable Care Act includes incentives for employers to implement worksite wellness programs to help them keep their workforce healthier.  When done well (using evidence-based and best practices) worksite health programs have a 3:1 payoff.  Like the odds? 

The Affordable Care Act contains some elements that will make worksite wellness programs more common and robust over the next couple of years.  There are basically 2 kinds of worksite wellness programs.  I’ll call them Wellness and Wellness Lite.  A “Wellness Lite” program doesn’t require a participant to meet any standard related to health status to receive a reward.  For example…  a wellness program could include a gym membership or tobacco cessation program but doesn’t require participants to actually lose weight or quit smoking.  

A Wellness program requires people to meet a health status standard to get a reward.  For example- an employer could ask employees to certify that they haven’t smoked during the previous year.  Enrollees who don’t could be assessed an annual surcharge of  20% of cost of the employee’s health insurance coverage.  Rewards may be in the form of premium discounts or rebates, lower cost-sharing requirements, waiving a surcharge, etc. Under the Affordable Care Act, wellness program rewards can be as high as 30% of the cost of the employee health plan- potentially going to 50% in the future.  

Our AZ Healthy Worksites web page provides businesses with information and tools to help them develop and implement an effective worksite wellness program.  For example, the Program Design page lists the eight steps for developing, implementing, and evaluating a comprehensive worksite program.  We’ve also contracted with the Arizona Small Business Association &  Viridian Health Management to develop a new toolkit for AZ businesses.  Viridian and the Arizona Small Business Association will teach businesses how to do effective wellness programs, understand their own particular issues/data, and develop effective strategies.  In all, our contract tasks the team to train 500 AZ employers.   Finally- the CDC is jumping into the fray with a variety of resources, which you can see at their worksite wellness hub website.