Background Health care costs have been rising at exponential rates in the United States for decades along with an epidemic of lifestyle diseases. The prevalence of chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and chronic pulmonary conditions are on the rise due to lack of exercise, poor nutrition, and tobacco use. Additionally, these conditions, which were thought to be a problem with older age groups, are now shifting down to Americans of working age. As a result, employers, as a primary intermediary for supplying health coverage, have felt the effects of these developments two fold; 1) significant increases in health care premiums and 2) illness related loss of productivity. In order to counteract these growing concerns, many corporations and public organizations have turned to workplace wellness programs as a strategic and proactive way to address these preventable illnesses in order to mitigate the rising cost of healthcare and improve productivity. Growing concerns among employers Each year in the United States, chronic diseases such as heart disease, stroke, cancer, arthritis, and diabetes cause 7 in 10 deaths and account for approximately 75% of the $2 trillion spent on medical care. Obesity alone is a significant health care cost driver. The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being index data for 2011 show full-time workers in the U.S. who are overweight or obese and have other chronic health problems miss about 450 million more days of work each year than healthy workers, resulting in an estimated cost of more than $153 billion in lost productivity annually. The combination of loss of productivity and increased health care costs for employers place their businesses at a competitive disadvantage both domestically and globally. The rising gap between the growth in health care spending and overall economic growth means that a larger share of resources is being devoted to health relative to other expenses, such as wages and other employee benefits, capital expenditures, and business operations. Workplace Wellness Programs A workplace wellness program is any program implemented by an employer to promote health and wellness amongst the members of its staff, usually by educating employees about health-related issues, promoting the maintenance of healthy lifestyles, and encouraging employees to make healthier choices. A broad range of benefits could be offered under the label “workplace wellness, ” from multi-component programs to single interventions, and benefits can be offered by employers directly, through a vendor, or group health plans. Although wellness programs can take many forms, the main objectives of these programs are to prevent the onset of chronic diseases or to diagnose and treat diseases at an early stage before complications occur and usually contain a mix of clinical screening activities and interventions. The Affordable Care Act and Wellness Programs The recent epidemic of lifestyle diseases in the United States has highlighted the national need for improved health promotion. It has been found that Americans currently receive roughly half of the preventative health services that are recommended. The Affordable Care Act passed in 2010 specifically responds to this need with a strong emphasis on disease prevention. Many of the 10 major titles in the law, especially Title IV, Prevention of Chronic Diseases and Improving Public Health, advance a prevention theme through a wide array of new initiatives and funding. As a result, the Act stands to reinvigorate public health on behalf of individuals, worksites, communities, and the nation at large and is expected to usher in a revitalized era for prevention at every level of society. The Role of Employers Each year in the United States, chronic diseases such as heart disease, stroke, cancer, and diabetes cause 7 in 10 deaths and account for approximately 75% of the $2 trillion spent on medical care. Obesity alone is a significant health care cost driver. The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being index data for 2011 show full-time workers in the U.S. who are overweight or obese and have other chronic health problems miss about 450 million more days of work each year than healthy workers, resulting in an estimated cost of more than $153 billion in lost productivity annually. In order to control the cost of health care, businesses must take a more proactive approach to maintain and improve the health of their employees and to reduce their employees’ risk of developing costly chronic diseases. Additionally, the United States government understands the pivotal role that corporations and organizations play in improving the health as a country through its access to employees at an age when interventions can still change their long-term health trajectory. As a result, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act included several provisions to encourage wellness programs at the plan, employer, and individual levels that are intended to contain health care cost growth and expand health promotion and prevention strategies. For example, beginning in 2014, $200 million will be made available for wellness grants for small businesses whose work force meet certain criteria. In addition, the health reform law raises the permissible limit on rewards offered by any size employer through a group health plan for participating in a wellness program that requires meeting health-related standards. As a result of these recent developments, workplace wellness programs have emerged as a common employer-sponsored benefit that is now available at approximately half of U.S. employers with 50 or more employees, a group that employs three-quarters of the U.S. workforce. Data from the RAND Employer Survey suggests that employers view the impact of their wellness programs overwhelmingly as positive with more than 60 percent stating that their program reduced health care cost, and around 80 percent reporting that it decreased absenteeism and increased productivity, making it a viable business strategy.
Workplace Wellness Solutions
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