Health Care Reform, Costs Likely Will Alter the Nature of Wellness

In the wake of the Supreme Court’s ruling on health care reform, the future of employer-sponsored health care insurance remains murky at best.

One health trend, though, looks like it’s here to stay as more insurers, employers and workers buy into corporate wellness programs. Yet the makeup of such programs likely will continue to evolve, experts say.

Jane DuBose, a principal director of advisory services for HealthLeaders-InterStudy, said at a recent industry conference that she expects health plans to continue shifting focus to wellness and prevention measures in an attempt to control costs, according to a Business Finance report.

DuBose said health plans increasingly will tie plan design to lifestyle behaviors and will include more incentives, such as cash and gift cards. While many employers have already taken these steps, the impact of the initiatives would be more powerful if health plans take a more active role in the wellness promotion, DuBose said.

Yet some of those moves — such as linking wellness goals and premiums rates — might run into strong resistance from employees, a new study suggests.

Most employees (68 percent) don’t think participation in wellness programs should be required to qualify for benefits, according to a study by the National Business Group on Heath (NBGH). In an article by Employee Benefit News, NBGH reports that 62 percent of respondents said they oppose the idea of charging workers more for health coverage if they don’t join wellness initiatives.

On the other hand, more than 80 percent of workers favor financial incentives as a reward for voluntary participation, the study finds.

Those incentives may prove to be the linchpin of the wellness programs of the future, according to a recent report by Occupational Health and Safety magazine.

The publication recently reported on a paper — backed by a group of six major health organizations — that provides tips on how employers can build quality wellness initiatives. The paper touts the power of incentives and predicts that financial and “outcomes-based” rewards will become more common in wellness programs because of the health care reform law. The paper, however, discourages the notion of tying wellness success to health care access.

“Workplace wellness programs can provide the tools and opportunities to improve health and wellness, but they should not be used in ways that undermine an employee’s ability to obtain adequate and affordable health insurance coverage,” Nancy Brown, CEO of the American Heart Association, stated in the report.


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