Survey: Employers expanding wellness programs despite rising health care costs

By Maryalene LaPonsie on April 5th, 2012

Most employers are committed to continuing their employee wellness programs, according to the recently published 2011 Willis Health and Productivity Survey, conducted by a division of global insurance broker Willis Group Holdings.

This comes despite increasing employer health insurance costs, a finding reported in the Health Care Reform Survey 2012, an earlier Willis Group Holdings study.

Wellness programs to expand

Currently, six in 10 employers responding to the Health and Productivity Survey say they are offering wellness programs designed to encourage healthy habits.

The most common workplace initiatives focus on the following areas:

  • Physical activity programs: 53 percent
  • Tobacco cessation: 49 percent
  • Weight management: 45 percent

In addition, most employers report they have plans to expand their program. The survey found 58 percent of those responding expect to add resources or programming to their wellness initiatives.

While wellness programs have been promoted as a way to contain health care costs associated with chronic illness and obesity, 43 percent of employers say it is difficult to measure whether their wellness program is impacting their medical insurance expenses.

Price of health insurance coverage on the rise

The expansion of wellness programs comes at a time when employers are feeling the effects of health reform on their health insurance rates. The Health Care Reform Survey 2012 found most employers who have quantified the cost of health reform provisions are seeing an increase in the amount they spend for health insurance plans.

Approximately one-quarter of the survey respondents had put a price tag on the cost of their compliance with the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Of those making the calculation, 56 percent said they were experiencing an increased cost because of the health reform law. More than 15 percent said the increase was in excess of 5 percent while roughly another 15 percent said their costs rose between 2 percent and 5 percent.

Employers say the most expensive provisions of health reform have been the mandate to cover adult children up to age 26 and the elimination of lifetime and annual caps on essential health benefits.

Willis found that employers believe most other similar employers will pass along the cost of dependent health insurance coverage to their workers. In addition, more than two-thirds of respondents expect employee contributions for health insurance plans to increase.

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