The latest Kaiser Family Foundation Employee Benefit Survey highlighted many things about employee benefits, including the growing importance wellness programs are playing in cost containment strategies. The survey found that 77% of firms offer at least one wellness program, and more firms think wellness programs are an effective strategy than employee cost sharing or tighter networks.
Despite growth and positive perception of wellness programs, there are individuals out there who are very critical of employee wellness and rightfully so. According to a New York Times article, research shows that wellness programs “rarely work as advertised.” Rather than dismiss all wellness programs, it is important to understand that this criticism refers to a very specific type of wellness program and should not be extrapolated across all program types.
So what type of wellness programs do naysayers focus on? Biometric screenings. According to the New York Times article, “this is because additional health screenings built into the programs encourage overuse of unnecessary care, pushing spending higher without improving health.” In addition to extra costs from unnecessary care, these so called “know your number” programs rely on follow up health coaching and wellness portals to get employees to actually engage in behaviors that will improve their health, like activity and nutrition tracking. It is with information like this that people are often shocked to find out that biometric screenings continue
to be one of the most popular wellness programs (55% of firms with 200 or more employees offer biometric screenings to employees).
Although biometric screenings are rarely the optimal solution for most companies, the New York Times article ignores other wellness options available to employers. Alternative options may not be as popular right now but are becoming more prevalent because they avoid the pitfalls of screenings and do so for significantly lower costs. Platforms like Wellable encourage most employers to skip the screenings and get straight to rewarding employees for taking meaningful actions to improve their health. It doesn’t take costly screenings and health coaching services to know that getting employees to engage in healthy behaviors can impact their health and productivity and save employers some money.