Make Wellness Work with Right Partner, Incentives

By W. Yale Miller
Oct. 10, 2013

Incentives matter. Bonuses, awards and discounts motivate behavior. It’s no surprise then that incentives tied to wellness activities are built into the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA). Beginning Jan. 1, 2014, employers can increase the amount of financial incentives offered to employees for participating in a company-sponsored wellness program from 20 percent to 30 percent of the company’s health plan costs. That amount goes to 50 percent for smoking cessation programs. This places accountability squarely on the shoulders of the consumer.

With so much attention focused on workplace wellness initiatives, it’s no surprise that nearly two-thirds of U.S. companies that offered health benefits also offer at least one wellness program, according to the 2012 Kaiser Family Foundation and Health Research and Educational Trust annual survey. And wellness programs designed to motivate specific behavior jumped to a top-tier goal for 41 percent of companies surveyed for the 2013 Trends in Employee Recognition report.

Today’s employers are not simply looking for feel-good programs that boost morale and increase productivity which wellness initiatives have been proven to do but they’re also seeking to change behavior in a quantifiable way. Finding the right partner who offers the right tools is essential to achieving this.

With no shortage of vendors offering their versions of workplace wellness programs, companies often struggle to identify which one to choose and sometimes have to start over when a wellness partner doesn’t work out. Mazak Corp., a machine-tool manufacturer in Florence, Ky., faced that challenge when a wellness program through a health plan wasn’t well received by employees. At the recommendation of their broker, Mazak turned to a program offered to area employers by The Christ Hospital in nearby Cincinnati.

Like most employers Mazak not only wanted to identify and mitigate key health risks present in the workforce, but also needed to streamline the administrative tasks associated with managing a wellness program. The Christ Hospital was able to accomplish both goals using an online population health portal, which:

  • Allowed employees to complete a quick health risk assessment.
  • Integrated biometric data into each employee’s profile.
  • Provided aggregated results (to ensure individual privacy) to the HR team.
  • Automatically tracked which employees had achieved the necessary steps to receive incentives.

Whether offering the allowable premium incentives set forth by the PPACA or some other form of reward, tracking has proven daunting. The task of keeping track of which employees have accomplished which tasks making them eligible for which incentives often has been done manually, requiring hours of data-keeping. Manual tracking also can make it difficult to ensure individual privacy requirements. Automation significantly reduces the administrative commitment required to manage a wellness program.

Companies like Mazak have discovered that partnerships with the local hospital aimed at improving employee health have provided not only the structure needed to implement a program, but also are a logical place for employees to turn for health-related insight. The local health care provider brings two important aspects to this type of initiative. First they have the trust of the employees that a third party or insurance company-sponsored program cannot engender. Additionally they have the community-based resources to help improve or maintain the health of the workforce when they need additional care.

Employers across the country are looking for ways to reduce health-related costs and boost productivity. With the proper partner that brings the right set of tools, the implementation and administration of wellness programs is a snap.

W. Yale Miller is executive vice president for Aegis Health Group, the nation’s leading provider of business development strategies for hospitals. He can be reached at [email protected].