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Health/Productivity Programs Growing In Popularity As Healthcare Costs Rise

More domestic corporations are providing health promotion and health management programs to control rising healthcare costs and increase on-the-job productivity, according to results of a new study by Hewitt Associates.

Ninety-three percent of U.S. companies currently offer some type of health promotion program, up from 89 percent in 1996, the study found. The study surveyed 945 companies, Hewitt representatives said.

Renewed Interest

Rising costs have triggered the popularity of these programs, said Camille Haltom, Hewitt healthcare consultant.

"Because employers are under increased cost pressures, there is a renewed interest and excitement about health promotion and medical management programs that can provide cost savings, reduce absenteeism and increase productivity," Haltom said.

"We expect that organizations will not only continue to offer health promotion programs, but look for ways to enhance and expand existing programs for employees," she continued.

Disease management is currently the area of greatest interest because it allows employees to measure results in a shorter time frame compared to traditional wellness programs, which can take as long as five years to measure results, Haltom added.

Education And Training

At least 72 percent of the survey respondents offer employees some kind of education or training, which represents a 2 percentage point increase since 1996, according to the study results.

Programs range from seminars and workshops to counseling sessions for lifestyle habits that contribute to chronic or acute health conditions, the report noted.

Financial Programs

Forty-two percent of the respondent companies continue to offer financial incentives and disincentive programs, compared to 34 percent in 1996, the survey found.

The most common incentives are gifts or monetary rewards for employees who participate in health appraisals or screenings, according to the report.

Examples of disincentives include charging employees who smoke higher medical or life insurance premiums or giving employees a lower medical benefit payout for not wearing a safety belt if they were involved in a car accident or if they were under the influence of alcohol or drugs, the study found.

Disease Management And Health Risk Appraisals

Seventy-six percent of the respondents currently provide disease management programs for their employees; 84 percent of the companies offer these programs through self-insured and/or fully insured health plans, according to the findings.

Twenty-eight percent administer health risk appraisals in the form of questionnaires to analyze an employee’s health history and promote early detection of preventable health conditions, the study noted.

Forty-four percent of the employers use the appraisals periodically, while 40 percent use them on an annual basis, the study found.

The questionnaires are often administered in conjunction with broader health management initiatives, the results determined.

Online applications also have made it easier to provide "serial evaluations" that can help participants understand the impact of changing their health habits, according to the survey results.

Health Screenings

Three-quarters of the respondents use health screenings, up from 68 percent in 1996, the study found.

Most administer screenings to detect high blood pressure or cholesterol through their health plans or via onsite health fairs; mobile units also are used for mammography exams or other screenings, according to the report.

Seventy-nine percent of the respondents offer employees special programs for disease and medical management, flu vaccinations, well baby and child care and prenatal care; 63 percent offered these programs in 1996, according to the study.

Additional Initiatives

About 81 percent of the respondents offer additional activities or incentives designed to increase an employee’s awareness of healthy behavior, the study found. These initiatives include the following, the report noted:

* Smoke-free workplaces: 57 percent.

* Health fairs: 42 percent.

* Onsite or employer-owned fitness facilities: 35 percent.

* Employer-sponsored sports teams/tournaments: 30 percent.

* Discounts at local health clubs: 23 percent.

Future Plans

"More companies are exploring health promotion and disease management programs as part of their healthcare strategy for next year," Haltom said.

The market is mature enough for health plans and specialty providers to "address employers’ needs and help contain costs," she added.

Address: Hewitt Associates, 100 Half Day Road, Lincolnshire, IL 60069; (847) 295-5000, www.hewitt.com.


© 2003 Health Resources Publishing