“An employer is making a serious mistake to not offer wellness, whether or not he offers a benefits plan,” says Bill Weaver, managing partner of Focus Benefits Group. To be sure, there is an impact on workers’ compensation, but an employee’s wellness also affects his or her job performance, and Weaver observes the concept goes beyond just not having a cold to encompass overall lifestyle. Wellness, he says, “drives down the cost of benefits.”
Wellness is no stranger to today’s health insurance plans; UnitedHealthcare’s president and CEO Jeri Jones and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona’s VP of strategy Jeff Stelnik both note their respective company’s focus on this aspect of healthcare. And both companies provide electronic tools as part of their healthcare plans to help the individual user access educational information on health issues as well as information about their health plan’s coverage, and even locate a nearby urgent care facility when they are away from home.
But, while wellness has traditionally been defined by what can be offered in the workplace to employees, Jason Paul, president of LifeCore Group, notes, “In reality, time at work is a small part of our lives. ‘Wellness’ is how we take care of ourselves, and care affects an employer’s workplace because stresses from home come with [an employee] to work.” Among wellness options for employers are employee assistance programs whose benefits range from discount programs for a wide variety of products and services to financial help lines to health nurse lines.
Paul also emphasizes the role of the employer in integrating wellness into the business environment. If wellness is part of the culture, it will engage the employees more than if it’s just another task they’re responsible for. And Paul notes, “When employers make employees understand how their actions now impact the future, and give them tools and resources to live a healthier lifestyle, it will cut health insurance costs for the future.”
But, ultimately, the effectiveness of wellness programs depends on the individual users. They must first believe they can access the care. “If you don’t believe accessibility exists, there is a greater chance you’ll end up in the emergency room — which is five to ten times more expensive than if you saw your primary doctor,” says David Berg, M.D., CEO of Arrowhead Health Centers. And second, individuals must be encouraged and enabled to follow the treatment prescribed. “It has been shown that the success of healthcare depends more on the predictable follow-through with the most basic of medical recommendations than [on] anything else,” says Dr. Berg. This underscores a tenet of recently launched Redirect Health, a healthcare network aimed at improving business efficiency and patient outcome, which Dr. Berg co-founded. Dr. Berg credits medicine in America today with offering “best in the history of the world” healthcare, but says sometimes higher-cost treatments and the inconvenience of routines and access discourage patients from complying. “Redirect Health’s focus is away from all the high-tech that’s way better than ‘good enough’ and helps them execute better so patients get the benefit of that ‘best in the world’ technology and doctors.” He sees believable access to preventive primary care as key to allowing the follow-through to actually happen and drive effectiveness and overall health. “Healthier people simply don’t spend as much time and money in expensive specialists’ offices and hospitals,” he says.