California Employers Look to Wellness Benefits

By SHRM Online staff Sep 6, 2012

Employers across California are turning to health benefits that help their workers combat preventable and chronic health conditions, according to research released by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) on Aug. 29, 2012.

“Wellness programs have a proven record for reducing health care costs, which are an ever-growing issue in California,” said Mark Schmit, SHRM’s vice president of research, in a news release.

Employers in the Golden State are more likely to offer onsite massage therapy (12 percent vs. 9 percent) than employers elsewhere in the U.S. They closely mirror employers across the U.S. in offering weight loss programs and onsite fitness centers.

California employers are in sync with U.S. employers overall when it comes to the resources they provide to employees to encourage a healthier lifestyle. More than three-quarters of California employers and U.S. employers overall provide wellness resources and information. More than half of California employers and U.S. employers overall offer a 24-hour nurse line.

The findings reflect responses of 447 randomly selected California HR professionals among SHRM’s membership surveyed in January and February 2012. These findings were compared with the nationwide averages from SHRM’s 2012 Employee Benefits research report.

Government employers and publicly owned for-profit organizations in California are more likely to offer wellness programs than privately owned for-profits and nonprofits, SHRM found, and larger employers are more likely to offer wellness benefits.

Other wellness initiatives among California employers and how they compare with U.S. employers overall include:

  • Onsite seasonal flu vaccinations—offered by 54 percent of California employers vs. 61 percent of U.S. employers overall.
  • Health screening—39 percent vs. 45 percent.
  • Health and lifestyle coaching—37 percent vs. 45 percent.
  • Preventive programs that target employees with chronic health conditions—both 36 percent.
  • Smoking-cessation programs—34 percent vs. 39 percent.

Many health problems are associated with obesity and other types of preventable and chronic conditions, and can have a significant economic impact on businesses.

Over the past four years, the percentage of U.S. organizations offering discounts on health care premiums for getting an annual health risk assessment and not using tobacco has increased. However, in California the percentage of employers offering these discounts is below the national average.

Only 8 percent of employers in California offer a discount on health care premiums to employees not using tobacco, compared with 20 percent nationally, SHRM found. Just 12 percent offer a discount on premiums to workers who get an annual health risk assessment—9 percentage points below the national average.

Other SHRM research shows that 30 percent of organizations in California reported paying the full cost of health care for their full-time employees, compared with 14 percent nationally,SHRM researcher Shawn Fegley said. He theorized that organizations in California may be less likely to provide these discounts, and support other related wellness initiatives, if the costs of health care are not being shared by employees and their organizations.

“If they’re fully paying, they’re not as likely to offer discounts” on premiums, since employees are not sharing in the cost, Fegley said.


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