There is a lot of talk about wellness and preventive medicine with the upcoming Health Care Reform. Our current health care system has been called a “disease management system” with little focus on preventing chronic conditions. Wellness programs are put in place by employers in an effort to reduce health care costs by encouraging healthy activities and lifestyles. They often follow a carrot and stick mentality. An employer will reward the employee who participates in a smoking cessation class or weekly weigh ins with a reduction in health insurance premiums or a lower deductible. If you high tail past the gym on your way to a smoke break, you pay higher premiums and higher deductibles.
These programs are starting to become more popular and the upcoming reform certainly plays a role. It lets employers vary premiums based on wellness program participation by as much as 30 percent — 10 percent more as what federal regulation currently allows.
There is a lot to like about wellness programs, in that they align the economic incentives of the employer and the employee: Both have a financial stake in engaging in more healthful behaviors that could ultimately drive down the cost of health care. They also increase productivity, result in fewer sick days, and higher employee morale.
The biggest concern is that this can lead to discrimination for the sickest employees. A person with chronic conditions, like diabetes, may not have a way to meet the benchmarks required to reduce their costs. Some consumer advocates say this has a greater effect on these people. Because an employee with a chronic condition may have a higher deductible or co pays at the doctor, they may be less likely to receive primary and routine care, causing their condition to worsen.
Ultimately, wellness programs are probably here to stay. They create an environment that encourages good behavior and discourages the negative behavior. In the next year or so, we will start to see more employers implement these programs to try and control spiraling health care costs.
I would love to get some feedback from people who have wellness programs at their current employer. Do you see co workers engaging in healthier behaviors? What about yourself? What are some specific things you think might work the best to encourage healthy lifestyles?