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Insurance Alone Won't Make for a Healthier America, Most Say
Tapping multiple strategies can help lower health care costs

By Stephen Miller  6/7/2010
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Sixty-two percent of American businesses and nearly 85 percent of employees say the workplace must play a leadership role in creating a healthier workforce and helping to curb rising health care costs, according to a survey released by Virgin HealthMiles, a provider of employee health and activity programs.

With the enactment of federal health care reform, 85 percent of U.S. companies surveyed believe that the legislation alone won’t make for a healthier America and that other measures must be put in place to curb rising health care costs. Additionally, employers and employees agree that the workplace should play a prominent role in encouraging healthier behaviors among the workforce and that incentives are a powerful motivator in doing so.

“Between rising health care costs and The Milken Institute’s estimated $1 trillion lost economic output associated with chronic health problems, responses from this survey support our experience that organizations recognize the importance of helping employees live healthier lifestyles," said Chris Boyce, CEO of Virgin HealthMiles, in a released statement.

Key Survey Takeaways

Among the survey highlights were findings of:

Multiple drivers pushing double-digit spikes in health care costs. Forty percent of companies surveyed indicated their health care costs have risen between 6 and 10 percent in the past year, with nearly 35 percent reporting a spike of more than 11 percent. Top drivers of cost increases included rising medical inflation, pharmaceutical and hospital costs, and an overall decline in the health of the general workforce as a result of a rise in chronic conditions.

Multiple strategies tapped to lower health care costs. Of the 8.5 percent of companies that reported a decrease in annual health care costs, eliminating coverage, moving to different health care plans, implementation of effective employee wellness programs and cost shifting to employees were the top drivers.

Employees want employers to take an active role in creating a healthy workplace. More than 62 percent of the 1,012 employer respondents and nearly 85 percent of the 1,926 employee respondents said that an employer has a responsibility to take a leadership role in encouraging and promoting workplace health.

Employees take health cues from supervisors and co-workers. Nearly three-quarters of employees surveyed said they would be more willing to adopt healthful lifestyle behaviors if their colleagues were doing so; 60 percent said they would adopt such behaviors if company executives were leading by example.

Flexibility, financial incentives and goal tracking are key to employee commitment to wellness. When asked which elements keep them on track toward improved wellness, top responses included program flexibility, financial rewards and access to user-friendly technology for setting goals and tracking personal progress.

Cutting-edge employers "value the health of their employees as an asset and demonstrate this by encouraging healthy behaviors and establishing supportive workplace cultures of health,” said Sean Sullivan, president and CEO of the Institute for Health and Productivity Management. “By being proactive and taking a leadership role in improving the health of their workforces, these companies already are showing results in improved productivity and reduced health care costs, which have a direct impact on their financial performance.”

“I've been in the health care business for 25 years, and implementing creative wellness programs by using technology as a facilitator really seems to work,” commented Jodi Fuller, global benefits director for MeadWestvaca, a global packaging solutions company. “We anticipate that every dollar invested will save us two dollars in the next five-year period, and our wellness program results will translate to lower health care claims, increased health and productivity among the workforce and lower overall health care costs.”

The survey was conducted in April 2010 and released to mark the start of June’s National Employee Wellness Month.

Stephen Miller is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

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