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Oh, Wellness You Will

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November 20, 2011

The top reasons employers provide health insurance coverage is to attract and retain good employees, to keep them productive, and because employees expect it. Despite having little or no say about what health insurance plans are offered, what medical benefits the plans will cover, or how much the plans will cost, employees are generally satisfied with their employer provided health insurance coverage. But as employers introduce wellness initiatives in an attempt to control ever increasing health care cost, will employee satisfaction carry over to these programs?

The National Compensation Survey (NCS) defines wellness programs as programs that offer employees two or more of the following benefits:

  1. Smoking cessation clinics

  2. Exercise/physical fitness programs

  3. Weight control programs

  4. Nutrition education

  5. Hypertension tests

  6. Periodic physical examinations

  7. Stress management courses

  8. Back care courses

Employers establish wellness programs as a way to control health care costs (premiums and claims). The thinking is that if employees and their family members adopt healthy habits, like regular exercise, their health will improve, they will need less medical care, and health care cost will decrease. Getting employees to adopt healthy habits is no easy task, nor is gaining employee confidence that data gathered through the wellness program will be used properly.

Some employees are concerned about wellness programs that require them to complete health risk assessments (HRAs) or participate in biometric screenings (e.g., cholesterol and blood pressure screenings). They view these wellness plans as employer involvement in their medical exams and they are concerned about their privacy, and that the employer when making future employment decisions, like promotions, with use their health status negatively against them. They also think that their health is their business and should not be a workplace issue. However, most employees are willing to complete health assessments and participate in biometric screenings in exchange for reduced insurance premiums. Some (88%), according to a survey by Virgin HealthMiles, believe that employers have a duty to promote workplace health.

For good or bad, employer-sponsored wellness programs are here to stay. These days, when you agree to accept your employer's health insurance, you are also agreeing to eat well, exercise, and not engage in unhealthy behaviors. Basically, you are agreeing to partner with your employer to help keep health care cost down. Not a bad idea, but if you are still unhappy about your employer's workplace wellness program, here are a few things you can do to feel better about it:

  • Confirm the privacy and confidentiality of any health related information you may provide to the program

  • Suggest ideas and incentives that you believe will help you reach your health and wellness goals--if you do not suggest it, your employer may never think of it themselves

  • Embrace workplace wellness programs. Do not resist (the program) for the sake of resisting--we can all use support in achieving or maintaining a healthy lifestyle

Remember that no one is going to force you to participate in a wellness program. However, if you want to pay the least amount of money for your employer-provided health insurance, you may have to say "yes" to wellness in the workplace.

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