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Your Take: Company “Wellness” Too Invasive?

Posted By Jim On 08/01/2008 @ 6:16 am In Your Take | 7 Comments

The first company I worked for had a dedicated department, of maybe two or three employees, focused entirely on “employee wellness.” They offered services like body fat analysis but didn’t go as far as this company in requiring them [3]. Personally, I think the motivations are good but I can see how people would think that’s invasive.

My company didn’t require you to participate in their programs but they did provide incentives for doing so. The medical insurance provider was called Lumenos and they offered a program in which you were given $1,500 a year to cover your medical costs. If you didn’t use the funds, it was rolled over into the next year. If you did and your costs exceeded $1,500, you covered the costs up to $2,000 (an additional $500), and then traditional health insurance would kick in (10% co-pays, etc.) beyond $2,000. It worked fantastically well for young professionals who, in general, have little in the way of medical costs. They incentivized participation in wellness programs by offering medical coverage money. Fill out a health survey and get $20. Participate in this program, get $25. It wasn’t required, you didn’t really get “paid,” but it boosted participation and got people thinking about wellness.

I think requiring it would’ve caused a backlash.

Either way, wellness programs are boosting the bottom lines at businesses by cutting medical costs. Everyone knows preventative care is cheaper than treating illnesses or conditions on the other end, everyone including prescription drug and treatment companies (fire away!). This was the topic of a Marketplace segment a couple weeks ago [4] and they found that at Gilsbar, costs are lowered when you introduce preventative care measures. Here’s a quote from the segment:

Doug Layman (executive VP at Gilsbar): Our health plan costs are 6 percent lower than they were five years ago. Our prescription drug costs, which everybody complains about, is 45 percent lower than they were five years ago. And 85 percent say their benefits package is better today than it was five years ago. Yet we’re paying less, and we have happier, more productive people.

That’s one of the reasons why countries with nationally subsidized health care programs pay far less than we do – preventing something is cheaper than curing something. It’s a big joke that Americans pay the most for health care yet don’t find themselves with the best care (in fairness, I’ve heard the argument against that is that our best of the best is far superior to other countries but the “average” care received any one member of the population is below other countries).

Getting back to the wellness programs, does your company offer something like this? If so, do they require anything or is everything optional? What would you think about being forced to do a body fat analysis? What if you had to pay more based on the status of your health?


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[3] this company in requiring them: http://www.cnn.com/2008/HEALTH/diet.fitness/07/25/fn.healthy.company/index.html

[4] Marketplace segment a couple weeks ago: http://marketplace.publicradio.org/display/web/2008/07/18/benefits/

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