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Wellness Insurance Programs for the Government Workforce

January 12, 2012

Rising health care costs continue to pose problems for employers in both the private and the public sector. Poor employee health is destructive; draining budgets in a number of ways, including: higher medicals costs, lower productivity, a greater incidence of job injuries, and higher employee turnover.

To combat this problem, a number of companies began offering Wellness Insurance Programs a number of years ago. These programs are built around a preventative, rather than reactive, health care model. In these programs, employees are usually provided with health risk assessments and subsidized preventative screening costs to identify and treat potential health risks. Educational and behavioral modification programs are also provided to assist and encourage employee participation in the wellness program. The offerings of wellness programs can vary significantly, and usually depend on the size and resources of the employer; large employers can more easily afford in-house wellness programs, while smaller employers have been able to provide wellness programs through third party vendors—usually their insurance provider, who realize similar benefits with a healthier clientele.  

Wellness Insurance Programs have received mainly positive reviews  in the private sector. Studies have found that every $1 spent on wellness programs results in $3 in health care savings. Johnson & Johnson estimated that over the ten year span of their program, the company has saved $250 million on health care costs alone. Likewise, employees also realize benefits from wellness programs, typically enjoying higher levels physical, mental, and social health; and in some cases, financial benefits for participating. However, despite the positive reviews of many wellness programs, there are some potential downsides, as their effectiveness can vary from employer to employer, and some employers may become vulnerable to increasing insurance rates.

This suggests that the use of Wellness Insurance Programs in the public sector may help state worker productivity and also relieve state health care costs. While not government reform per se, the problem of employee health care costs has become a serious one for governments and a source of anxiety for state employees. Wellness Insurance Programs can provide governments with healthier, and subsequently, more productive employees, and as the old adage goes, real change comes from within . . .

Not surprisingly, Wellness Insurance Programs have begun to penetrate the public sector. These programs can be found at all levels of government; local governments are using wellness programs, a number of states have implemented or proposed wellness programs, and the federal government has also implemented wellness programs (including in the controversial Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which contains provisions for wellness programs). For example, North Carolina has implemented a successful pilot wellness program which effectively improved employee health among a public sector workforce where 1/3 of employees suffer from at least one chronic disease or obesity. Nebraska, who also implemented a wellness program, which similarly appears to be benefitting the state and its workers alike.

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