Wellness Programs Slowed Health Care Cost Growth

By SHRM Online staff March 8, 2011

Health care costs rose at a 15 percent slower rate among wellness program participants than a comparison group when employers consistently offered a wellness program to their employees, a study published in the March/April edition of the American Journal of Health Promotion found.

The four-year study, which focused on Highmark employer group wellness programs, showed a savings per participant of $332, indicating that substantial savings may result for group customers once a worksite wellness program is established. Highmark, a health benefits provider serving 4.7 million members in Pennsylvania and West Virginia, is one of the largest Blue Cross/Blue Shield independent licensees in the U.S.

"This study is significant because it shows that implementing a worksite wellness program at a company can help control overall health care costs," said Donald R. Fischer, M.D., Highmark chief medical officer. "Having hard data from this study proves what we've been telling our group customers all along—keeping employees healthy is not just good for the business, it's also good for the bottom line."

The study evaluated the impact of worksite wellness programs on health care costs and utilization over time by matching approximately 10,000 wellness program participants at 47 Highmark employer groups with a risk-matched comparison group. At a minimum, the employer groups offered web-based wellness programs from Highmark to their employees consistently for three or more years, which indicates that even small interventions, like online programs, can help have an impact on health care costs for those that participate.

Wellness program participants developed a greater tendency to pursue preventive services (such as physicals, mammograms and cancer screenings) than their comparison group counterparts, possibly as a result of self-care knowledge obtained from their worksite wellness programs. Preventive care measures often cost employers more in the short term but can help to save longer-term health care costs.

"The cost of health care is arguably the most talked about subject in America right now. While the recent health care reform legislation took a step to create access for Americans, it does not address cost," said Fischer. "It's incumbent on everyone in the health care system—the insurers, employers and members—to address costs. This study is a shining example of what can be done if we all work together."

Related Articles:

Wellness Participation Soars with Top Management Commitment, SHRM Online Benefits Discipline, March 2011

Wellness Program value Is Financially Misunderstood, SHRM Online Benefits Discipline, November 2010

Heart Disease Prevention Program Saved Lives, Reduced Costs, SHRM Online Benefits Discipline, November 2010

Wellness Programs Can Reduce Health Risks, Study Finds, SHRM Online Benefits Discipline, October 2010

Nine-Year Study Documents Benefits of Wellness Program, HR News, September 2010

'Tectonic Plates' and the ROI of Health Benefit Programs, SHRM Online Benefits Discipline, October 2009

Finding Wellness's Return on Investment, HR Magazine, June 2008

The ROI of Wellness Programs: From Perk to Priority Investment, SHRM Online Benefits Discipline, January 2007

Quick Links:

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SHRM Online Health Care Reform Resource Page

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