Employers Rouse Workers in a Game of Quid Pro Quo

Monday, August 1st, 2005
This post was written by Melanie Matthews

Guest Blogger: Jennifer Millman

A layman’s analysis of the current healthcare situation presents certain inalienable truths: premiums are increasing; services are over-utilized; chronic care costs are formidable. But many factors contributing to these problems are preventable. Frustrated with hefty payments to keep their workforces intact, employers are discovering an alternate route to cost-effectiveness. Rather than minimize bottom line impact through generous disability or expensive treatment options, they’re taking a direct path to encourage employee health consciousness and personal accountability – straight through their pockets.

A July 31 USA Today article, Companies Step Up Wellness Efforts, suggests this method is on course, highlighting results from a recent Hewitt Associates report. According to Hewitt’s analysis, 41 percent of companies already promote healthy lifestyles through established incentive programs, a seven percent increase from 1996. These companies vary in approach from regular health fairs and cursory handouts to more rigorous required health-risk assessments, enrollment in disease management programs and specialized diet and exercise regimens. One employer mentioned in the article boasted an impressive return on investment: healthcare costs for participating workers were 10 percent less than for non-participating employees.

A May 2005 online survey conducted by the Healthcare Intelligence Network (HIN) denotes similar results. Of 141 healthcare industry professionals surveyed, more than 70 percent either utilize incentive programs or are planning a future implementation. Employers catalyze behavior modification by offering straight cash, merchandise, reduced benefits and even free gym memberships to employees who strive for healthier lifestyles. By indulging an American appreciation for quid pro quo, employers fight back against exorbitant costs of chronic conditions like obesity and lung cancer that are often avoidable. They encourage their workers to eat better, smoke less and exercise more, cutting healthcare expenditures for their respective companies and the nation as a whole.

However, incentive programs aren’t foolproof. Healthcare decisions are personal and employers do not want to invade privacy, nor are they babysitters. But given recent healthcare trends in cost and utilization, these initiatives might, at least, be a motivational push toward healthier lifestyles for those already sitting on the fence.

I don’t know about you, but it might be enough to give me second thoughts.

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