By : Cynthia Sweeney
"As wellness programs are becoming widespread in large and small companies, the results are positively impacting the bottom line. North Bay employers are advocating healthier, more productive employees and larger companies are benefiting from lower insurance rates.“As people are spending more and more time at work, these programs are proving effective,” said Jeannie Calverley, director of employer and community relations at St. Joseph Health in Santa Rosa. “When I first got here in Sonoma, five years ago, people got this glazed look in their eyes ‘What is workplace wellness?’ and there was a lot of confusion. People are a lot savvier now, and want to take it to the next level.”
Wellness programs are attractive to employers for many reasons including increased productivity, reduced absenteeism, a reduction of health claims, and in avoiding catastrophic claims, for example, if one should have a heart attack on the job.
“You also build a culture and climate where employees feel valued. And when the programs are offered as a benefit, it helps to recruit and retain top talent,” Calverley said.
Comprehensive wellness programs sometimes offer incentives to their employees. Nationally, in 2015, 79 percent of employers said they now offer financial incentives to encourage employees to participate in wellness programs. That’s up from 74 percent in 2014.
The National Business Group on Health and Fidelity Investments survey found that employers expect to spend an average of $693 per employee on such programs this year, up from $594 in 2014 and $430 five years ago.
In these programs, employers typically offer such financial incentives as cash, gift cards, reduced health care premiums or contributions to health savings accounts to encourage employees to participate in a range of wellness-related activities.
The most popular incentive-based employer-sponsored wellness programs this year are biometric screenings, which 72 percent of employers said they plan to offer, and 70 percent said they intend to offer health risk assessment programs in 2015.
Providing wellness programs for employees is also a way for larger companies to lower their insurance rates.
“Once you get over 50 employees, the insurance company will look at the claims and lower the rate,” said Andrew McNeil, principal with Arrow Benefits Group in Petaluma. “It takes between three and five years of offering the programs to see any return on investment, however, and that can be an eternity for small employers.”
The majority of larger companies Arrow works with have wellness programs in place, McNeil said. Many small businesses (under 50 employees) don’t implement wellness programs as the program itself cannot directly affect the monthly health insurance premium. That’s because the premiums are a pooled risk, and filed by the health plans with the State of California. (The under 50 employees definition changes to under 100 employees in 2016.)
Still, while small employers that offer a wellness program can’t impact the cost of their group health insurance, a well-designed wellness program has the potential for reducing absenteeism as well as increasing employee morale. Larger employers that offer a wellness program may see over time a reduction in their medical rates (assuming the wellness program is implemented correctly) as the medical rates are tied to the overall health risk of the employees and their covered dependents, especially if the wellness program is targeted to specific medical problems such as obesity.
Several entities in the North Bay have a variety of wellness programs available to employers including St. Joseph Health, Kaiser Permanente, Sutter Health and Whole Foods.
Kaiser Permanente has been involved with wellness programs for over 70 years. Today, they partner with employers to help them define what their role is in their employee’s health.
“Are they just providing benefits, or do they need to take on advocacy?” said Tom Carter, Vice President of Workforce health consulting and Kaiser-On-the-Job, for Kaiser Permanente Health Plan
Kaiser takes a look at the company’s particular workplace culture, and assesses what risks there are for the employer. They provide and help implement tools for, among other things, running a healthy meeting, moving more in a sedentary environment, and managing stress.
Kaiser also partners with schools and the National League of Cities. Wellness toolkits on their website are free at businesshealth.kaiserpermanente.org/workforce-health-resources/. A contact page is also available on the site.
At St. Joseph’s, Calverley, who has a degree in psychology, believes in the mind-body-spirit connection and creates programs that boost employee’s intrinsic motivations. Among St. Joseph’s programs is Live Healthy Wine Country which was launched January 2015, which seeks out employers with seasonal or around-the-clock employees who have difficulty gathering at the same time. They also offer assessments, health screenings, wellness plans and Work@Health. Contact Jeannie.Calverley@stjoe.org.
Sutter Health offers worksite wellness programs in Marin and Sonoma Counties. Highlights of Sutter’s program include a personal health assessment and report card that provides employees a view of their health status with recommendations, a group health report that provides an employer a HIPAA compliant view of the health status of their workforce, and ongoing health education and campaigns. For more information visit sutterhealth.org/employerprogram.
Whole Food’s Healthy Eating Specialists are available to give presentations outside their stores to employers, schools, or any other organization wanting education on eating healthy. "
Sweeney, Cynthia. "Work Wellness Programs Progressing to the Next Level." North Bay Business Journal. 6 Apr. 2015. Web. 6 Apr. 2015.