CEOs Share Insights for Wellness Success

A call to action on employee health promotion

By Stephen Miller, CEBS September 19, 2014

Leaders of the biggest U.S. corporations, including Coca-Cola, Johnson & Johnson, Verizon, Walgreen Co. and Bank of America, issued a call to action on employee health promotion in a new report by the nonprofit CEO Council on Health and Innovation in conjunction with the Bipartisan Policy Center.

The report, Building Better Health: Innovative Strategies from America’s Business Leaders, encourages employers to:

Implement and track the outcomes of their health and wellness programs.

Collaborate on the implementation of community-based programs.

Support the movement toward cost and quality metrics transparency, along with payment and delivery models that are based on outcomes rather than volume.

American companies and their employees bear about 45 percent of the nation’s total health expenditures, which are approaching $2.8 trillion, or nearly a fifth of all U.S. spending, the report states. “America’s business community has always been an effective driver of change and progress,” said the members of the CEO Council. “We are strongly committed to taking action to improve the health and wellness of the nation as a whole, and to promote higher quality, cost-effective, patient-centered care.”

Improving Wellness Outcomes

The report calls for employers to take action in the following areas:

To improve the health and wellness of individuals: Implement comprehensive health and wellness programs that address nutrition and physical activity, tobacco use, emotional and behavioral health, and condition management; and begin tracking and sharing outcomes to promote learning and improvement.

To improve the health of communities: Understand local progress and collaborate with public- and private-sector leaders to focus on physical activity, nutrition and tobacco use; improvements in clinical care and health outcomes, with a focus on access to care, preventive services and prevalence of chronic disease; and social and economic factors that have been shown to improve the health of communities.

To improve the health care system: Increase the share of provider payments that are based on value rather than volume; promote delivery system innovations that have been shown to deliver value; promote reporting of meaningful performance data; recognize the importance of primary care; and support employee and beneficiary health care decision-making by increasing the transparency of performance information, providing consumer education tools and implementing value-based benefit design.

An interactive website launched in conjunction with the report contains resources to support implementation by employers. Also, a series of short videos features CEOs discussing their wellness initiatives and lessons learned.

Addressing Return on Investment

“When we look at return on investment and the controversy out there, I can tell you in a short statement that wellness works and prevention pays,” said Fik Isaac, M.D., vice president of global health services at Johnson & Johnson, during a panel discussion announcing the report’s release on Sept. 16, 2014. The panel took place in Washington, D.C., and was streamed online.

Isaac noted that Johnson & Johnson has conducted many studies of its wellness initiatives, looking at health care costs and utilization, pharmaceutical costs, and trends in health care outcomes. He referenced a study published in Health Affairs showing that for every dollar the company spent on health promotion, it achieved from $2 to $4 in return on those investments, with a $565 savings per employee per year during the period of the study.

Johnson & Johnson’s rise in health benefit costs over the six-to seven-year period of the study was about 1 percentage point annually, Isaac noted, compared with an increase among its peers of about 4.7 percentage points, or about 80 percent higher than Johnson & Johnson’s cost increase. “So we believe [the wellness program] does work, and we do have quite a bit of ability to show the evidence.”

The full press briefing can be viewed here.

More than Cost Savings

Although studies on wellness initiatives, including the one referenced above, make the case of health benefit ROI, employer wellness programs have nevertheless been subject to criticism about their cost effectiveness. Now, a growing number of advocates contend that the benefits of wellness extend beyond cost savings, as noted in a September 2014 report by The Economist Intelligence Unit, sponsored by Humana. Among the findings in Measuring Wellness: From Data to Insights:

Cost effectiveness is no longer the primary measure employers use to assess their wellness programs.

Wellness programs can be part of a progressive HR strategy to make the organization an employer of choice. As noted in the report, Kevin Volpp, founding director of the Leonard Davis Institute Center for Health Incentives and Behavioral Economics, believes that asking whether wellness programs have value based solely on ROI is “the wrong question.”

“If the goal of wellness programs—like treating illness—is to improve health, not save money, why not view it through the same lens? Perhaps the question should be, ‘Do we improve health at a reasonable price?’ as opposed to ‘Do we save money by doing so?’”

Better data collection and data interpretation are needed.

Although employers stressed the importance of better data collection and interpretation, they struggle to interpret the data they do have and they don’t have sufficient insights to assess key program objectives.

Leading obstacles to participation in wellness programs are employees’ lack of time and privacy concerns.

Of those employees who are eligible but choose not to participate at all in their company’s wellness program, 41 percent said they don’t have enough time; a similar proportion (47 percent) of participants who don’t actively engage in their company’s wellness program said the same, according to a survey noted in the report.

Program elements that allow employees to engage in health and wellness during the workday may improve participation rates.

The three most popular services, rated as highly motivational by about 30 percent of employees, were subsidized gym memberships or onsite fitness facilities, onsite health and wellness facilities, and budgeted wellness activity time during working hours.

Stephen Miller, CEBS, is an online editor/manager for SHRM. Follow him on Twitter @SHRMsmiller.

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