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Do Wellness Programs Work?

by William Stroud |

A member recently joined the NCBA health plan who had a severe history of morbid obesity, diabetes and a number of other related medical problems.  Over the course of a year, this member shed well over 100 pounds, got his diabetes under control, and now exercises and takes care of his health religiously. 

This is a stark example of an individual’s wellness initiative paying huge dividends, not just in the risk they pose for expensive health costs, but more importantly in an exponentially improved quality of life.

What employers usually ask when considering whether to promote a wellness program is – will this provide a Return on Investment (ROI)?  In other words, how much will my health plan costs be impacted by a wellness program?

Well, if you extrapolate from an individual’s experience like the one above, you would think a wellness program could have a big impact.  Just get everyone to exercise, eat right, lose weight, quit smoking and, voila, lower health costs. 

Unfortunately, a recent study suggests wellness programs generally do not have a significant impact on health plan premiums.  From our experience with the NCBA health plan, it’s not hard to see why.  Much of today’s modern health expenditures are related to expensive acute or chronic care.  Large claims may arise from cancer, heart and renal disease or infections.  Specialty drugs, such as biologics commonly used for autoimmune disorders, are very expensive and chronic drivers of cost.  Wellness programs may do little to hold back claims of this nature and they are becoming huge drivers of higher costs.

The good news, though, is that while you may not be able to hold back the tide of swelling medical costs, you may get other unexpected positive results nonetheless.  The real payoff from a wellness program, or at least one implemented in a positive, team-building fashion, is happier, more productive employees.  Good health habits make us feel better, and it’s a lot better for employees to be comparing notes about their fitness progress than complaints about the tedium of the office.

So don’t implement a wellness program expecting to lower your health plan costs significantly.  But if you want a workforce with more enthusiasm, a better attitude and less absenteeism, a wellness program could be just the ticket.

William Stroud is President of Lawyers Insurance and has managed the NC Bar Association Health Benefit Trust since its inception in 2002. For a quote from the NC Bar Association plan, contact Delores Hunter at dhunter@lawyersmutualnc.com or call us at 800-662-8843.  If you have other questions about our plan you can contact me at wstroud@lawyersmutualnc.com.

About the Author

William Stroud

William Stroud is President of Lawyers Insurance and has managed the NC Bar Association Health Benefit Trust since its inception in 2002. Contact William at wstroud@lawyersmutualnc.com or 800-662-8843.

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