In my experience there is simply surface-level masking by calling it a "Wellness Program" instead of a data collection healthcare discount program, because a lot of lifestyle changes needed to promote genuine health aren't really incorporated. As in, healthier diet of fresh foods, better rest at night, free access to exercise facilities.
And yet, a stressful work environment will lead to unhealthy eating habits, less restful sleep, and less exercise if not a dedicated routine to combat the stress. Amazing to me that stress is a still a bastard stepchild of health when it affects health and performance.
Well of course not; it might cost the company money to make those things available.
Although I am not very sure, what you really mean by saying "a lot of lifestyle changes needed to promote genuine health aren't really incorporated"...do you mean the employers don't promote them? Or the incentives you are relating to don't fall under the "wellness program" benefits in general to receive a credit/discount (from the standpoint of insurance companies)?
For instance, an insurer won't take any interest in your diet, because that's hard to measure, but they will take a keen interest in your BMI and cardiovascular fitness.
The typical "wellness program" gives you a $X discount over the plan year in exchange for a 3rd-party call center company to collect your health information and nag you to not be so unhealthy over the phone at regular intervals. They have to tiptoe around ADA and anti-discrimination laws. The insurance discount is wholly insufficient to pay for any measure that would genuinely impact health. Given the choice between giving employees a direct $120 a year benefit for gym membership and splitting $50 discount to the employee and $70 expense to a professional call center nag, the group insurer invariably picks the latter.
You see, if you just give away the fitness gym membership, there's no leverage to make the employee actually go there and work out.
My current company invites people to get free blood pressure checks from staff of the local hospital system. I am not fooled by this. This is not motivated by concern for my health, but as a means to monitor the blood pressure of employees who already feel they must do so. The measurement is free, during business hours. Any intervention that might improve health, such as counseling or medication, has to come from the employee's own pocket, on their own time.
It's a disgusting ruse. I don't care if they were going to give me $300/yr, my privacy is worth more than that.
I'm sorry but while it's great to encourage that behavior it's not my employer's not my insurance company's business to know these details about my healthcare.
What exactly do you imagine a health insurance company is? Dealing with the details of your healthcare is the entire reason it exists.
Thanks for the insight, but is there any empirical evidence here?
Should car insurance companies treat a 16 year old with a WRX and a 45 year old with a Camry as equivalent?
It's really pretty bizarre that we expect people to underwrite our health without any insight into what risks we choose to take with it.
We chose the free market as our approach to health insurance, we could at least make it efficient. Right now a lot of healthy, fit people are paying through the nose to subsidize the privacy of those with sedentary lifestyles.
Edit: Even if you decide not to opt-out of employer provided coverage, you don't have to participate in the wellness program, just as you don't have to participate in the gps tracking.
They may claim they protect the privacy of your information, but recent history has shown that those claims generally aren't worth the electrons they're written with. There will be leaks, and hacks, and all manner of subterfuge.
1. They provide a way for their employees to build healthy habits
2. As a result, if their employees complete certain milestones, (such as filling out Personal Health Assessments or attending screening events) they can get discounts.
I imagine this would become more sophisticated in the future, maybe providing better rates if a company can show that their employees are consistently improving their health year over year.
Still looking for info on Insurance Benefits. (That seems to be a murky area....any info would be very helpful.)
To put it another way, it's only optional till its prohibitively expensive to maintain your privacy.
I think both of these should be banned at the Federal level before they become too pervasive. The slope is too slippery.
Take the case of an employer with 50,000+ employees. Why 50,000+? Because as of mid-2015 this is the only set of employers where the economics have shown that wellness programs create an ROI. Below that, accountants have not been able to demonstrate a clear economic investment across the board, it is much more on a case-by-case basis. So if you are below 50,000 employees, the answer to your question would be, "In general, there is nothing in it economically for employers, other than they feel good, their HR department is being hornswoggled by salespeople, or they have done some clear, good accounting with a record of wellness programs going back years which have demonstrated some positive correlation between better health and some indicator for the bottom line of their business."
If you are talking about the 50,000+ employee category, then in general there are economic benefits which can be proven in the world of accounting.
Health insurance companies (or more appropriately termed, Health Management Organizations, HMOs) quote out a given employer's rates based upon the risk pool made up of all of the employees. There is little to no leak of information between the HMO and an employer, because the information used is classified as Personal Health Information (PHI), which has very strict standards for how it is stored, the loss or misappropriation of which is a felony that can result in prison time. The employer does not see this PHI - that information is shared between healthcare providers (hospitals and clinics) and the HMOs. So when an employer goes to an HMO to get a quote, the HMO takes all of the PHI they have on the individuals within that employer's organization, and creates a quote based upon how they see that risk pool.
If an employer with a large number of employees, let's say Nationwide Red Dot Retail Store, Inc. (NRDS Inc), partakes in a given wellness program, they will receive a discount on that underwriting based upon the types of wellness programs they provide for their employees. These discount offerings are determined by data scientists and project managers who work at the HMO, and are geared toward maximizing profit for the HMO. For example, those data scientists may find that by offering people $20 to all employees to participate in a health survey, the number of smokers within that pool of employees goes down by 0.5%, which means that the cost to cover them goes down by 1%, which means they would offer some discount less than 1% to NRDS Inc. However, the accountants and data scientists at NRDS Inc., are no dummies, so they may take a look and see that their employee turnover rate is X%, so that particular offering doesn't make sense of them economically, because by next quarter they will have a whole new set of smokers they will have to pay money to, as a part of the wellness program, only to have them leave 3-4 months later.
Wellness programs are meant to use psychology to trick, not force, people into changing their health habits. People do not react well to being forced into things. Americans particularly, do not react well to being forced into things. You may read some other responses to this question giving you an impression that people are being penalized for their decisions and choices.
Here's a straw-man argument for you: let's say there was a country called, "Amazing Programmerlandia Island," and you could hire the most incredible, genius, friendly programmers who know tons of languages to help you with your startup there for $10/hour. There's just one problem. About 50% of them love to do Crocodil, and it is illegal to check whether they are addicts before you hire them, and illegal to fire them just because they do Crocodil, and you have to pay for rehabs. Would you take any opportunity you could to, "hack," the system and try to lower the number of potential Crocodil addicts in your employee pool with some back-door system? Of course you would, this is Amazing Programmerlandia we're talking about here, tons of money to be made for just a tiny investment!
This spurious example basically demonstrates the mindset of HR departments when they buy into wellness programs. The economics change based upon the size of the company, and the numbers a company may have - it is not an, "across the board thing."
To find out more about the ROI of Wellness Programs, I recommend you Google individual companies names, and reports on the ROI from that particular company, from that company's point of view, not from the HMO's point of view, or from an independent paper (from a place like RAND) or from the Government. I could see the Federal Government funding studies which support wellness programs regardless of their true ROI, and asking the HMOs what they think is like askign the fox to guard the chicken coop.
There is no real tax benefits that I am aware of for engaging in wellness programs, the potential returns are only based upon lowered underwriting costs - although if I am wrong on that, please correct me.