Healthier workers mean lower health costs
Healthier workers mean lower health costs
Employers seek to influence health habits
Employers have discovered a way to lower their health plan costs: Have healthier employees. Increasingly, employers are creating strong incentives for healthy behavior or penalizing employees with risky behavior, such as smoking. But employees aren't thrilled about the new approach, according to a survey by Hewitt Associates, a human resources consulting firm based in Lincolnshire, IL.
While 88% of employers reported that they plan to make a "significant investment" in effort to improve employee health and productivity, only 12% of employees said employers have a role in helping their workers understand how to stay healthy. In fact, most employees (88%) say they are already engaging in healthy behaviors. Hewitt surveyed 508 executives and about 30,000 employees from a variety of industries in December 2007. "We find that when we ask more detailed questions about particular healthy habits, it becomes clear that employees have a ways to go down this path of a healthier lifestyle," says Jeff Munn, JD, leader, design and development, for the Hewitt health management practice in Falls Church, VA.
Eat right and exercise?
Only 47% of employees acknowledged that they "eat right" and only 40% said they exercise at least three times a week. When asked their top health improvement priorities, employers cited weight management, physical fitness and smoking cessation as the top three. They were most concerned about heart disease, diabetes, and overweight/obesity among their employees. A disconnect between employees and employers may create some difficulties as employers seek to align incentives to encourage healthy behavior. For example, employees reacted negatively to strong incentives to complete a health risk questionnaire, as 64% disagreed with policies that require the completion of a health risk appraisal to receive health insurance and 54% disapproved of providing lower insurance premiums for employees who complete the questionnaires.
"Employees are concerned primarily about the privacy aspects" related to the information collected, says Munn even though most employers use an outside vendor to collect and analyze the health risk information.
Align health goals
Munn offers the following advice to employers who want to develop programs to improve their employees' overall health status:
- Be clear about how you're using health risk appraisals. Employees want to know how the information is collected and who will have access to it. If the employer only will get aggregate information and the specific, employee based information will remain confidential with an outside vendor, make sure employees understand that. Munn also notes that employers often are including spouses in health risk appraisals in an effort to influence their preventative health behaviors. "Most employer health claims are paying more for spouses than the employee," he says.
- Use financial incentives but go slowly. "You are more likely to get employees to respond as the financial incentives become more significant," says Munn. But you may get some backlash from employees who don't want to comply with the requirements or who feel coerced, he says. "There's just an inherent resistance to change," he says. If you make too many changes too fast changing the design of your health plan along with creating incentives related to health behaviors you may confuse employees, he says.
- Align your health goals. Your work environment should reflect your priorities. For example, do you have healthy food in the cafeteria? Do you have walking paths? "The employers who think about that total environment in addition to how the health plan is structured are going to be more successful," Munn says.
- Involve top leadership. The visible support of hospital leadership will be important to success, says Munn. For example, at one company, the CEO announced that he would go for a walk every day at lunch and employees could join him. The daily walks became popular, says Munn, and demonstrated the CEOs personal commitment to encouraging healthier habits. (Editor's note: The Hewitt report, Two Roads Diverged: Hewitt's Annual Health Care Survey 2008, is available at www.hewittassociates.com/Intl/NA/en-US/KnowledgeCenter/ArticlesReports/Articles.aspx.)
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