Workplace Wellness

February 1, 2009

Health plans as employers themselves need just as much of a commitment to wellness as their clients

"We want to make sure that the operational details actually work and prove that the results are there, so when we go to market, our programs are refined and ready to use," says Don Bradley, MD, BCBSNC chief medical officer and senior vice president of healthcare services. "When it comes to workplace wellness, we have been walking our own talk."

The workplace wellness programs, which began in 2004, have not only shown results in BCBSNC's 4,900 employees but in its employer group population, as well.

As employers themselves, MCOs need to demonstrate that they are committed to wellness as a key health management strategy, especially as the market shifts more and more toward prevention strategies, says Paul Veronneau, partner, health industries advisory, and leader of the payer practice, PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC).

"At the same time, it is important for them, as health services companies, to lead by example, by creating a culture of wellness within their own organization and helping their own employees improve their health and well being," he says. "They also want to acquire data to support that they are doing it right, and use that data to help them prepare and build a business case for why other companies should do the same thing, and to reinforce that they would be a good partner."

WHAT EMPLOYERS WANT

Smart employers are aiming for better health status and functionality for their workers, which also translates into increased productivity, says MHE Editorial Advisor Sean Sullivan, JD, president and CEO of the Institute for Health & Productivity Management, Scottsdale, Ariz.

"Health plans finally are starting to become what health maintenance organizations were supposed to be from their inception because their customers-the employers-have concluded that the only way to start controlling or managing costs is to get ahead of illness instead of waiting for it to happen," Sullivan says.

"What Employers Want From Health Insurers-Now," a recent survey from PwC's Health Research Institute, confirms what Sullivan says. Employers are interested in managing rising costs through wellness and disease management programs rather than continuing to shift costs to employees-a tactic that has reached its limit with the American workforce.

Nevertheless, according to the survey, two-thirds of employers see value in working wellness initiatives into their overall personnel strategies and supporting them with incentives to participate.

"In 2009, health plans will begin to play a more active role in wellness program design, tools and support as a way to combat soaring healthcare costs and encourage healthy behavior," Veronneau says. "An abundance of opportunity exists for health plans to innovate in this area and create new programs for employers."