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Employers Refocus Strategies To Promote Wellness

After decades of focusing on health coverage as the exclusive avenue of providing financial protection against medical costs, employers are starting to shift to a focus on wellness and prevention, according to the recent MetLife Annual Employee Benefits Trend Study.

More than one-fourth (28 percent) of all employers – and nearly half (49 percent) of companies with 500 or more employees – offer some type of a wellness program as a workplace benefit, and 43 percent of employers believe that these programs are highly valued by their employees.

Additionally, the study reveals that 17 percent of employers offer health insurance credits for employees following wellness guidelines such as exercise, nutrition, check-ups and disease screenings.

Nearly one-third of employers with 500 or more employees (31 percent) are offering these wellness credits – up from 25 percent a year before.

On the other hand, one-in-ten employers (9 percent) and one-in-five (19 percent) of employers with 500 or more employees say they impose financial penalties on employees for not following wellness guides.

"Wellness and prevention programs can benefit both employees and employers. Healthy employees can be more productive and help curb the medical and disability costs of a working population. In turn, employees’ health impacts their wealth. Taking active steps to improve one’s health can help mitigate circumstances that can affect a person’s financial safety net and premature withdrawal of savings," said Dr. Ronald Leopold, vice president, employer-sponsored benefits, MetLife.

Because Americans are living longer, there is a greater focus on wellness and prevention earlier in life. Taking care of oneself during the working years is an excellent way to mitigate future medical costs.

"Various other tools, such as financial protection products, can work side-by-side with prevention and wellness initiatives to protect our fiscal futures and offer peace of mind now and through retirement. This is how an employer can really deliver on the new culture of health and financial security," Leopold said.

Other findings from the MetLife study include:

  • 35 percent of employers fund employee assistance programs, up from 25 percent the prior year. For companies with 500 or more employees, this number has grown from 46 percent in 2005 to 58 percent in 2006.
  • 17 percent of employers – and 34 percent of employers with 500 or more employees – offer targeted prevention programs.
  • 14 percent of employers – and 28 percent of employers with 500 or more employees – provide onsite clinics.
  • 15 percent of employers – and 29 percent of employers with 500 or more employees – offer healthcare advocacy.

Address: MetLife Inc., 200 Park Avenue, New York, NY 10166; (800) 638-5433,

© 2008 Health Resources Publishing