Employers debating whether to offer wellness programs as a way to reduce health care costs should think again
This just released study by the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) shows what many of us already knew – many health improvement programs, popular with and perhaps lucrative for highly compensated brokers and consultants, may not actually produce value for their employer clients.
NBER studied very large employer wellness programs with the question: do wellness programs improve total medical costs, worker health behaviors, worker productivity, or self-reported health status?
The answer in this study – NO.
Why? Because these programs, and the incentives associated with them, only resonate with workers who are already pre-disposed to wellness and naturally pursue positive health behaviors and productivity.
Allowing workers to select coverage that better fits their needs with a platform like Hixme’s WorkPlace Market™ is a sure way to truly save for companies AND families.
What Do Workplace Wellness Programs Do? Evidence from the Illinois Workplace Wellness Study
… Workplace wellness programs cover over 50 million workers and are intended to reduce medical spending, increase productivity, and improve well-being. Yet, limited evidence exists to support these claims.
… We find strong patterns of selection: during the year prior to the intervention, program participants had lower medical expenditures and healthier behaviors than non-participants.
… However, we do not find significant causal effects of treatment on total medical expenditures, health behaviors, employee productivity, or self-reported health status in the first year.
Meanwhile, another just-completed study on “wearable sensors” , conducted by researchers at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles investigating effectiveness, had a similar conclusion that showed little behavioral changes with the wearer.
… 16 randomized controlled trials that researchers assessed to be high quality … non-invasive, wearable, and capable of automatically transmitting data to a web portal or mobile app for review by patients or health providers.
… Among the devices tested were internet-connected weight scales, blood pressure monitors and activity trackers with text-message reminders.
[The question from this study:] Do these wearable biosensors make patients healthier?
The conclusion was “Not very much.” The analysis found no significant difference in health outcomes like weight or blood pressure for patients who used the devices and patients who didn’t.
The lesson for Large Employers:
- Employers might look carefully at what type of coverages managed care companies invest in when THEY are FULLY at risk?
i.e. those sold to individuals, seniors and small employers which do NOT include many of these “popular” perhaps even lucrative (for brokers/consultants) programs. They often do not waste precious resources on programs that don’t provide a real measurable financial or behavioral return.
- As many large, otherwise self-insured companies working with platforms like Hixme’s have learned, creating your own customized health care plan may not be superior to offering defined contribution access to Direct-To-Consumer health solutions. Wellness programs and fit-bits may be “popular”, and offering these kinds of incentives have their place in attracting and retaining workers. But it is increasingly clear that they are NOT ways of saving money on health care costs unless fully integrated into the underlying health plan in ways that insurers are best positioned to accomplish.
- Allowing workers to select coverage that better fits their needs with a platform like Hixme’s WorkPlace Market™ is a sure way to truly save for companies and families.
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ABOUT THE HIXME THINK BLOG: Authored by one of the gurus of health insurance, Denny Weinberg, postings reflect market trends and the powerful emerging movements toward true portability and personal ownership by workers and their families. Postings follow these emerging trends, driven by consumer ownership of retirement benefits, consolidations by health care institutions, and the stated pro-consumerism goals and actions of the administration, federal agencies and Congress.