Though workplace wellness programs are lowering costs for employees with chronic conditions, encouraging workers to adopt a healthy lifestyle “may not reduce health costs or lead to lower net savings,” researchers at RAND Corp. say.
The RAND study, which is published in the January issue of the journal Health Affairs, examined a wellness program offered by PepsiCo (PEP) for seven years. The program, known as PepsiCo’s Healthy Living wellness program, included a health risk assessment, on-site wellness programs and screenings, a “complex care” manager and a nurse advice phone line.
“Workplace wellness programs have the potential to reduce health risks and to delay or avoid the onset of chronic diseases as well as to reduce health care cost in employees with manifest chronic disease,” researchers wrote. “But employers and policy makers should not take for granted that the lifestyle management component of such programs can reduce health care costs or even lead to net savings.”
The lifestyle management programs included weight and nutrition management, fitness, stress management and smoking cessation. Such programs didn’t impact the costs like disease management that includes more aggressive intervention and regular meetings with a health care provider like a nurse.
Researchers say the study is still helpful to the increasing numbers of companies offering wellness programs so they know to zero in on workers with chronic conditions like diabetes and heart disease who have “higher baseline spending” on their health.
To be sure, Pepsi’s wellness program saved nearly $4, or $3.78, in health care costs for every $1 the soft drink giant invested in the effort and researchers said the company’s disease management program led to a 29 percent reduction in hospital admissions.
“The PepsiCo program provides a substantial return for the investment made in helping employees manage chronic illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease,” said RAND natural scientist Dr. Soeren Mattke, a lead author of the study for the nonprofit organization known for its health research. The study was funded by PepsiCo.
Wellness programs are encouraged by more and more insurance companies, employers and certain aspects of the Affordable Care Act.
The study, which looked at the wellness program experience for more than 67,000 workers, comes at a time increasing numbers of companies are adding workplace wellness programs to their efforts to improve employee health and fitness as a way to controlling rising costs.
About half of U.S. employers with at least 50 employees offered a wellness program while more than 90 percent of companies with more than 50,000 employees offered a wellness component, according to an earlier RAND study.
Source: Forbes Business