Today nearly all large employers offer a workplace wellness programs and most small employers that offer health benefits also offer at least one wellness program. Typically these programs consist of health risk assessments, biometric screenings, health coaching and lifestyle management education. Program popularity is not surprising considering the epidemic in what's termed "lifestyle diseases" due to, in part, poor nutrition and tobacco use. To encourage employee participation in these programs the Affordable Care Act will allow beginning in 2014 employers to discount up to 30% of successfully participating employee's insurance premiums and up to 50% if the additional 20% is due to a reduction in employee tobacco use. However, do these programs work and more pointedly do they shift health care costs from healthier employees to those considered less healthy?
During this 22-minute podcast, Ms. Darling briefly describes workplace wellness programs, their rationale, funding, program incentive payments (including loss aversion policies) and the difficulties in determining wellness programming effectiveness. She also addressess cost shifting criticisms of wellness programs and other related issues. The interview concludes with her thoughts concering whether employers will begin to drop employee benefits in 2014.
Ms. Helen Darling is President of the National Business Group on Health, a national non-profit, representing large employers' perspective on national health policy issues. Its over 300 members, including 64 of the Fortune 100, purchase health and disability benefits for over 55 million employees, retirees and dependents. Ms. Darling also currently serves on numerous boards including the Institute of Medicine's Roundtable on Evidence-Based Medicine, the Board of the National Quality Forum, the VHA Health Foundation Board and the Board of the Congressionally-created Reagan-Udall Foundation. She is widely quoted in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, The Economist, Washington Post and numerous other periodicals. Previously, Ms. Darling worked at Watson Wyatt Worldwide, the Xerox Corporation, at William W. Mercer and served as an advisor to Senator David Durenberger. Ms. Darling received her Master's and Bachelor's of Science fom the University of Memphis.
For more on the debate regarding the effectiveness of wellness programs see, for the example, the debate between Ron Goetzel and John DiNardo via the Health Affairs Blog, at: http://healthaffairs.org/blog/.