Wellness Plans: Does This Trend Have Legs?

Wellness Plans: Does This Trend Have Legs?
There is a high cost to healthcare in our country and employers are carrying much of that burden.

Regardless of your opinion about Obamacare, recent trends indicate that many companies are embracing wellness programs to address rising health care costs and improve employee retention (mainstream programs include smoking cessation, nutrition, fitness, and health screening). Commemorating May 20 as National Employee Health and Fitness Day, I thought I’d take a closer look at this area.

Beginning in 2014, the new law raised the financial incentives that employers were allowed to offer workers to participate in workplace wellness programs. These can be either rewards that include lower premiums, deductibles or other costs along with penalties for those that opt out.

While as many as 95 percent of all large companies now have programs in place, it appears many are viewing this as more than just smart spending. A new study from the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans called Workplace Wellness Trends reports that more than half of all organizations have budgets devoted to wellness, and more than four in five offer some type of wellness initiative. Nearly three in five organizations with wellness budget expect their budgets to increase in the next two years. And interestingly, wearable tracking devices (such as Fitbits, which Pega also offers employees) are made available free or at a discount in 28% of organizations, wellness apps are promoted or used in 27% and gamification is incorporated into 16% of responding programs.

There is a high cost to healthcare in our country and employers are carrying much of that burden. Improving employee wellness certainly helps curb those costs. Many health experts agree wellness programs are not the be-all, end-all of health care cost savings, but do believe that even if a wellness program doesn’t change health care cost in a dramatic way, there are still other benefits.

John Hancock has announced it has recognized the wellness trend and will begin offering two new life insurance products with a healthy living program. They will be the first U.S. insurer to allow life insurance policyholders to be rewarded for health-related activities recorded via personalized health technologies.

With the new John Hancock Vitality app, policyholders can record their healthy activities, view their points and status, earn points by submitting prevention screening and athletic event, and log health club workouts. The number of points earned over the course of a year determines their program status level and discounts.

Whether you’re an employer or a life insurer like John Hancock, healthy living and wellness programs appear to be gaining traction. I’m wearing my Fitbit – are you?

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