For today's employees, it's wellness programs or bust

Health and wellnessMore and more employers are offering wellness programs--and they're increasingly requiring participation by penalizing workers if they don't sign up for their programs, Reuters reported.

"Wellness-or-else is the trend," Jon Robison, a workplace consultant for Salveo Partners, told Reuters.

In fact, more than 60 percent of large companies offer wellness programs, and almost 25 percent of those impose financial penalties for employees who don't participate, an employer survey from Towers Watson found.

That means there could be big opportunities for insurers to meet their employer clients' needs by offering to implement their wellness programs. But doing so could conflict with insurers' ability to meet their members' needs. A separate poll found that 74 percent of the public thinks it's inappropriate for employers to force workers to pay higher premiums if they don't meet certain health goals or participate in a wellness program, FierceHealthPayer previously reported.

Indeed, wellness programs are most effective when they feature carefully selected incentives that compel employees to participate, take certain actions or perform certain activities throughout the program.

The most prominent wellness program that penalizes non participants has been implemented at Honeywell International, which was sued by the by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Honeywell requires employees who decline certain medical screenings pay $500 more a year in premiums and waives company contribution of as much as $1,500 a year.

Just more than 10 percent of Honeywell's employees (about 5,000 people) didn't participate in its wellness program, so the company saved hundreds of thousands of dollars, Kevin Covert, deputy general counsel for human resources, told Reuters. That's much better than average--less than half of employees with access to a wellness program through their employer stick with it for more than a year, according to BenefitsPro.

Meanwhile, Pittsburgh-based Highmark has implemented a wellness program requiring its employees answer a health questionnaire and undergo company-run screenings for smoking, blood glucose and blood pressure. Employees who opt out of these screenings must pay thousands of dollars in fines.

Adjusting premiums based on wellness program participation is "a very powerful incentive for driving behavior," and that "people deserve to be rewarded for both effort and outcomes," Highmark vice president Anna Silberman told Reuters. 

To learn more:
- read the Reuters article
- here's the BenefitsPro article