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Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Employers Use Carrots and Sticks to Promote Worker Health


Employers are using financial carrots and sticks to get workers to adopt healthy lifestyles, in an effort to improve well-being and lower health costs, a new report on employer health benefits finds.

Nearly two-thirds (63 percent) of firms offering health benefits offer at least one wellness program to employees, like nutrition classes or programs that help people lose weight or stop smoking, according to the 2012 Employer Health Benefits report from the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Health Research & Educational Trust.

About a tenth offer some sort of financial incentive for participation, like smaller premium contributions, smaller deductibles, higher health-savings account contributions, gift cards, merchandise or even cash.

More than a third of large firms (those with more than 200 employees) reported asking employees to complete risk health assessments. Those assessments include questions about the worker's medical history, health status and lifestyle. And of those firms, nearly two-thirds dangle financial incentives for them to do so, the study found.

Eleven percent of firms that use health assessments said that workers with identified risk factors must complete a wellness program or face financial penalties, like higher insurance premiums, and 9 percent reward or penalize employees based on whether they meet “biometric” measures, like certain cholesterol levels or a target body-mass index.

The findings were reported as part of an annual review of employer health benefits, which found that overall family health insurance premiums rose 4 percent in 2012, a relatively modest increase.

The report is based o n a survey of more than 2,000 human resources professionals at randomly selected firms, and was conducted for the foundation and the Health Research & Educational Trust in January through May of 2012.

What incentives or penalties does your employer offer promote healthy behavior? Do you think they're effective?