Wellness Programs Show Hard-dollar Savings

John Commins, for HealthLeaders Media , February 28, 2011

There is something inherently commonsensical about wellness programs.

If employers entice and incentivize employees to take better care of themselves, by losing weight, quitting smoking, exercising, etc., then the healthier life style will result in lower medical costs, which will be reflected in lower health insurance premiums, and other costs associated with employer-based health plans.

It's a remarkably simple theory. Until recently, however, it's been just that: theory. It's been difficult to consistently demonstrate savings generated by wellness programs. As the wellness movement matures, however, more studies prove they are a worthy return on investment.

Highmark Inc., the Pittsburgh-based health insurers, have published the findings of a four-year study which found that healthcare costs rose at a 15% slower rate among wellness participants who were offered a consistent and comprehensive wellness program over several years, when compared with employees in a control group who did not participate in wellness programs.

The study of select Highmark employer group wellness programs showed that the savings per participant was $332 a year, when compared with the control group of nonparticipants. Actually, the savings could be considerably higher, says Jennifer Grana, a director at Highmark, because the study does not factor in the cost of lost productivity and absenteeism due to health issues.

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