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Healthcare Payers Face Wellness Conundrum

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   June 05, 2013

New federal rules on wellness programs are branded as "incentives," but will do little to rally employer support.

The final rules released last week by the Department of Health and Human Services for employment-based wellness programs bring some welcome news for health plans hoping to reach new markets. But they shouldn't hold their collective breath.

Currently there is an undercurrent of grumbling by employers who are not enamored with the government-defined process of offering these programs and rewarding participants. So HHS is trying mightily to advance health awareness and disease prevention by creating incentives for employers to offer wellness programs to their employees.

Two surveys released within a few days of one another shed some light on a wellness conundrum. In a survey conducted by Virgin HealthMiles, only 25% of companies responding said they planned to implement any wellness provisions from the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Employers revealed that they struggle with finding a tangible way to directly correlate wellness programs to bottom-line benefits.

On the employee side, the same survey confirms that employees love wellness programs. Eighty-seven percent of respondents said that they consider health and wellness offerings when choosing an employer. And incentives play a big role in employee motivation—61% of employees credit the incentive as the key reason for participating. Another 78% said they are interested in participating in incentive-based programs while at work.

Rand Corp. meanwhile released a sobering report on workplace wellness programs last week that is sure to give even the most committed and wellness-savvy executive heartburn. Over five years the average healthcare cost savings for an employee participating in a wellness program is $157.

Margaret Dick Tocknell is a reporter/editor with HealthLeaders Media.

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