Employee Wellness Programs Provide Significant Savings Over Time

Release Date: March 6, 2012 | By Laura Kennedy, Contributing Writer
Research Source: American Journal of Health Promotion

KEY POINTS

  • Employees who participated in an employee wellness program over three years had smaller medical cost increases than non-participants.
  • Businesses may not see savings from employee wellness programs until two or three years after the program begins.
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Employees who participated in a health-improvement program had fewer medical costs than non-participants, according to a new report in the American Journal of Health Promotion. In addition, three year employer savings outpaced the program costs with a return on investment (ROI) of almost $3 to $1.

“One of the unique things about this study is that it reports detailed ROI by year,” said lead author Seth Serxner, Ph.D., of OptumHealth in Minnesota. “The study provides support for continued investment, but reminds employers that health management is a multi-year investment strategy.”

Comprehensive health and productivity management (HPM) programs typically offer a variety of services such as health-risk questionnaires, telephone “advice lines,” lifestyle-improvement opportunities and disease-management programs. The programs are becoming increasingly common as employers struggle to control medical plan costs while improving employee health. Yet, according to a recent survey by the nonprofit National Business Group on Health, more than 75 percent of large employers that offer HPM programs say they do not know their return on investment for the programs.

To determine ROI, Serxner and his colleagues examined wellness program participation and medical claims data for close to 50,000 employees of a large financial services corporation. They used innovative analytical techniques to compare net medical and prescription claims paid by the company for people who participated in one or more of the HPM services with those who did not participate at all. After accounting for the costs to implement the wellness program, their analysis revealed a loss in year 1 with net savings in years 2 and 3. The company’s overall return on investment (ROI) during the three-year study period was 2.45:1.

The Serxner study “confirms a growing body of work showing a positive ROI within 2-3 years for health management interventions, looking at the savings in medical costs alone,” says LuAnn Heinen, vice president of the National Business Group On Health.

The “next frontier” in employee productivity research will be looking at how better health management can reduce absenteeism and increase engagement at work, says Heinen. “This is where the most exciting cost savings and performance improvement opportunities will be found in the years to come.”

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For More Information:

Reach the Health Behavior News Service, part of the Center for Advancing Health, at hbns-editor@cfah.org or (202) 387-2829.

American Journal of Health Promotion: Call (248) 682-0707 or visit www.healthpromotionjournal.com.

Serxner, S., Alberti, A., Weinberger, S. (2012). Medical Cost Savings for Participants and Nonparticipants in Health Risk Assessments, Lifestyle Management, Disease Management, Depression Management, and Nurseline in a Large Financial Services Corportation. American Journal of Health Promotion, 26:252-259.

Tags for this article:
Workplace Health   Health Care Cost   Inside Healthcare  



Comments on this article
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Diane Longstreet, PhD, RD says
March 7, 2012 at 4:11 PM

This is an excellent step in establishing the evidence base that we need. What will be helpful is if we could develop some standard gusidelines as to what does and does not work in the work setting. Also, in my personal experience, it is only when you have one or more inspired "champions" of the program that you then have the buy-in required to make the program(s) work. Good work here; let's keep going with it!