How employers can take advantage of the best-kept wellness secret

How can you take advantage of insurance companies’ best-kept secret? Some insurance carries pay wellness dollars to companies who implement wellness programs. Read on to learn more.


Did you know some insurance carriers pay companies to implement wellness programs? It’s called wellness dollars, and it is insurance companies’ best-kept secret.

Wellness dollars are a percentage of a company’s premiums that can be used to cover wellness-related purchases. The healthier employees are, the fewer dollars insurance carriers need to pay out for a policy. Many insurers have incentives like wellness dollars for employers to improve the well-being of their workers.

The benefits of adding a wellness program are plenty. These programs typically generate a positive return on investment for companies. Research done by three Harvard professors found that overall medical costs decline $3.27 for every dollar spent on wellness programs. Costs from absenteeism fall about $2.73 for each dollar. Well-designed programs can improve employees’ overall wellbeing and life satisfaction, according to a report from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

It’s a new year, and group health insurance plans are starting fresh. Here’s how employers can take advantage of wellness dollars.

Get in touch with your carrier. The first step is to get in touch with your insurance carrier to find out if your self-insured or fully-insured plan covers participatory or health-contingent programs. If you don’t have wellness dollars, it’s still early in the year, and it’s worth negotiating to see if you can include them in your company’s current package.

You will work with your insurance carrier to determine how your wellness dollars can be spent, based on an agreed-upon contract. The amount of wellness dollars that you receive depends on the number of employees and profitability.

Every company is different, so the range of services varies and could include wellness programs, gym memberships, nutrition programs, massages and more. Sometimes incentives for wellness activities can be used; sometimes it can’t. Ask your carrier for a complete list of covered expenses. This will help you as you shop around to find the right offerings. Save receipts and records for reimbursements.

Determine the best use. There are a few ways to determine what offerings you should use for your company. Before making any decisions, ask your employees and the leadership team what type of program they would be most likely to engage in. Gallup named the five elements that affect business outcomes: purpose, social, community, physical and financial. Look for a comprehensive program that includes these five elements, instead of coordinating with multiple vendors. If only a portion of your expenses will be reimbursed, it’s still worth getting a wellness program. They have cost-savings on an individual and team level.

Wellness programs are all about building culture, and with unemployment at a record low, it’s a sticking point to keep employees invested in your company. A few examples of wellness offerings include fitness classes, preventive screenings, on-site yoga, financial wellness workshops, healthy living educational workshops, and health tracking apps.

Once you’ve implemented wellness offerings in your workplace, keep track of your company’s progress. Create a wellness task force, a healthy workplace social group, or conduct monthly survey check-ins to make sure employees are staying engaged. Some wellness programs utilize technology to track participation, integrate with wearables, and report other analytics. Ask your insurance carrier if wellness dollars have flexibility in adding or changing the services throughout the year, based on engagement.

SOURCE: Cohn, J. (14 February 2019) "How employers can take advantage of the best-kept wellness secret" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/how-employers-can-take-advantage-of-the-best-kept-wellness-secret


Employee wellness programs and compliance: What to know right now

How do you decipher any given wellness program's compliance under the law? Under the Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act (HIPAA) current guidance, employers need to assess whether the plan is “purely participatory” or “health-contingent.” Read this blog post to learn more about wellness program regulations.


Defining “wellness” for any one person is no simple task, and neither is deciphering a given wellness program’s compliance under the law.

In 2016, when the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) released its final regulations defining a “voluntary” program under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the entire landscape — at least what can be seen on a hazy day — appeared defined. But thanks to AARP’s successful challenge to these regulations and the EEOC’s recent acknowledgment of the demise of its incentive limitations, employers find themselves back in the “Wild West” of sorts for wellness compliance.

That being said, the uncertainty is not new for employers with wellness programs, and there is now more guidance than before, so let’s take a moment to take in the current view.

The current guidance under the Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act (HIPAA) remains unchanged, so any wellness program integrated with a health plan or otherwise constituting a health plan itself, employers need to assess whether the plan is “purely participatory” or “health-contingent.” The health-contingent plans (which condition the award of incentives on accomplishing a health goal) will require additional compliance considerations, including—but not limited to—incentive limitations, reasonable alternative standards (RAS), and notice requirements.

The RAS should be of particular importance because they can be missed most out of the compliance parameters. Often there is an “accidental” program such as a tobacco surcharge, and the employer does not even realize the wellness rules are implicated, or the employer’s RAS is another health-contingent parameter that actually necessitates another RAS.

The Department of Labor is actively enforcing compliance in this area, so employers will want to take care.

Additionally, the EEOC’s ADA (and Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act) regulations are still largely in force. This seems to be a common misconception—ranging from a celebration of no rules to a lament for the end of incentivized wellness programs that include disability-related questionnaires (like an average health risk assessment) or medical examinations (including biometric screenings).

The truth is somewhere in the middle.

The ADA’s own RAS and notice concepts still apply, along with confidentiality requirements. All that has changed is that the EEOC has declined (again) to tell us at what point an incentive turns a program compulsory. So employers sponsoring wellness programs subject to the ADA have three choices, based on risk tolerance (In truth, there are four options, but charging above the ADA’s previous incentive limitations would be excessively risky):

  • Run incentives for ADA plans up to the 30 percent cap that existed before. This is the riskiest approach. To take this route, an employer must rely upon HIPAA’s similar (though not exactly the same) incentive limitations as indicative of non-compulsory levels. The fact that Judge Bates did not accept this argument in the AARP case advises against this approach, but this case does not have global application. If this path is chosen, it will be imperative to document analysis as to why this incentive preserves voluntariness for your participants.
  • Keep the incentives below the previous 30 percent cap but incentivize the program. This approach does have risk because no one knows at what point an incentive takes choice away from participants. However, the incentive is a useful tool to motivate and reward health-conscientious behavior. The wellness incentive limitations stood at 20 percent under the HIPAA regulations for quite some time without much concern, so this could be a relatively safe target. But the most important thing is to carefully assess the overall structure of the program(s) offered, consider the culture and demographics of the employees who may participate, and balance the desire to motivate against the particular tensions of the program to decide on a reasonable incentive. Make sure to document this analysis and reconsider it every time a program changes.
  • Not incentivize the program at all. This is the most conservative approach from a compliance perspective but ultimately not required. Before the EEOC’s 2016 regulations, employers were incentivizing programs subject to the ADA, and nothing about the AARP case or the EEOC’s response to it prohibits incentives.

There’s no doubt the wellness compliance landscape has changed a little over this last year, but this is also just the tip of the iceberg. With enforcement heating up, it is imperative for employers to carefully consider compliance, document the reasonableness of incentive choices and lean on trusted counsel when necessary to avoid potentially costly and time-consuming issues.

SOURCE: Davenport, B. (13 February 2019) "Employee wellness programs and compliance: What to know right now" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitspro.com/2019/02/13/employee-wellness-programs-and-compliance-what-to-know-right-now/


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Why chiropractic services could be the next big thing in wellness

Could chiropractic services be the next big thing in wellness? The American College of Physicians' care guidelines recommends the conservative, non-pharmacologic treatment chiropractors provide. Read on to learn more.


The next popular wellness perk could be offering chiropractic services at on-site medical centers.

On-site or near-site clinics typically offer services to employees including first aid, occupational health, condition management, wellness and ancillary services — and increasingly chiropractic care.

Employees, healthcare administrators and physicians are recognizing the health and employee satisfaction benefits of integrating chiropractic care into multidisciplinary settings, research suggests. Care guidelines from the American College of Physicians recommend the conservative, non-pharmacologic treatment chiropractors provide. Employers are finding that adding chiropractic care to their worksite health center teams reduces direct costs of care, decreases opioid prescriptions for neuro-musculoskeletal episodes and improves health outcomes.

Healthcare costs for employers are expected to reach $15,000 per employee in 2019, according to the National Business Group on Health. The direct and indirect costs associated with low back pain are estimated between $85 billion and $238 billion, and expenditures for back pain are rising more quickly than overall health expenditures. To help stem that growth, as many as 65% of large companies are expected to offer on-site or near-site care by 2020, NBGH reports.

Employer focus on improving workers’ health and wellness has gained momentum in recent years, as evidenced by last year’s announcement from Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway and JPMorgan Chase that they would form an independent healthcare company for their U.S. employees. Another example is employers with self-funded health plans contracting with narrow, high-quality provider networks and even negotiating directly with local hospitals on their prices.

Clinics offer similar cost control and oversight benefits. More importantly, they offer faster and easier access to care that keeps employees healthy, motivated and engaged — and out of the emergency room or hospital. As such, 54% of large employers currently offer on-site or near-site clinics, while another survey showed that 94% of employers reported their clinics improved employee health and 95% said they contributed to increased employee productivity.

Each clinic’s services, cost-sharing, use privileges and staffing can be customized to meet the needs of a specific organization and employer benefit plans. These decisions should be reflective of the objectives of the sponsoring employer and the healthcare needs of the population.

While most healthcare clinics are located on-site or close to the workplace, a growing number are near-site or shared clinic locations, serving populations from multiple locations of the same employer or various employers. Additionally, more care is being delivered virtually. The objective is to provide easy access and immediate attention for employees, at little or no cost, for a host of services and products that an employee would normally have to leave the work site to obtain.

According to a recent survey by the National Association of Worksite Health Centers, the majority of employers reported their workers had expressed interest in chiropractic services at their clinics. The nationwide cost for treatment and management of low back pain and arthritis has reached $200 billion annually. Another study attributes two-thirds of these costs to lost wages and reduced productivity.

The fact that chiropractors deliver drug-free therapies should be particularly meaningful to employers in light of the country’s opioid abuse epidemic. The good news is a recent study published in “The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine” concludes that for adults receiving treatment for low back pain, the likelihood of filling a prescription for an opioid was 55% lower for those receiving chiropractic care than for adults not receiving chiropractic care.

In particular, chiropractors follow evidence-based and value-based guidelines to promote safety and effectiveness. Findings like these and many others show that by adding chiropractic care, employers will strengthen the opportunity for cost savings, improved outcomes, greater worker productivity and stronger employee retention.

SOURCE: Lord, D. (25 January 2019) "Why chiropractic services could be the next big thing in wellness" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/why-chiropractic-services-could-be-the-next-big-thing-in-wellness?brief=00000152-14a7-d1cc-a5fa-7cffccf00000


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Analytics are key to wellness success. Here’s why

How can benefits managers utilize analytics to maximize their companies’ investments? Continue reading to learn how analytics can help employers optimize their health, wellness and other benefits programs.


What do benefits managers have in common with Walmart? Both have the power to leverage data to create a sustainable competitive advantage.

Like other leading retailers, Walmart mines vast quantities of data and applies predictive analytics to fuel solutions that improve store checkout processes, maximize inventory turnover and optimize product placement. Data analytics also helps the company identify shoppers’ preferences and personalize their shopping experiences. New parents, as identified by prior purchases, might receive digital coupons for infant products, for instance.

Walmart’s data intelligence gives the international retailer the ability to act upon insights quickly. One Halloween, for example, a novelty cookie generated high sales across the United States, but no sales at all in two U.S. stores. The company’s data analytics swiftly ascertained that the cookies were never put on the shelves at those stores. The problem was resolved immediately through high-visibility product placement.

Employee benefits managers have similar opportunities to maximize their companies’ investments. The effective use of disparate data can help employers optimize their health, wellness and other benefits programs, and pinpoint the true value of their total rewards.

A data-driven approach to benefits analytics

Three out of five U.S. employers use health screenings and risk assessments to help employees detect conditions earlier, when treatment might be more effective and costs lower. However, the majority of employers do not measure the impact of these programs.

Those that do assess a program’s impact typically compare the dollars spent on it with the medical claims saved. Forward-thinking benefits managers, however, are examining the total value of investment (VOI) instead. This innovative approach analyzes not only the effect of a wellness initiative on medical costs but also its influence on productivity, absenteeism, disability costs and other factors.

By aggregating and analyzing different types of data — such as claims and non-claims data — benefits managers can determine crucial correlations between preventive screenings, health outcomes and healthcare costs. Thus, they can develop more targeted benefits packages that reduce costs while improving overall employee health and productivity.

Case Study: Implementation of predictive analytics in preventative screenings

One recent initiative undertaken by a state employee health plan demonstrates the power of data analytics to reveal the VOI of preventive cancer screenings.

The state provides medical benefits to around 205,000 employees and dependents. The agency that administers the benefits program wanted to know whether preventive cancer screenings improved health outcomes, and whether the program was cost effective. Analyzing screening and claims data showed that 6% to 8% of those who underwent screenings for breast, colorectal or cervical cancer received a diagnosis of cancer or a related condition. The follow-up and all-important question was: did those members experience different outcomes than members whose cancers were not detected through screenings?

The results indicated a high VOI for members’ preventive cancer screenings:

  • The majority of new cases of breast, colorectal and cervical cancer were detected through preventive screenings.
  • Among members who received preventive screenings, 5% to 11% underwent treatments because of screening results — and not just for cancer. Treatments included removal of benign tumors or polyps.
  • Those diagnosed with breast, colorectal or cervical cancer through the screenings experienced less invasive treatments and had fewer complications than those diagnosed through other means.
  • New cases of breast and cervical cancer diagnosed through the preventive screenings had lower costs, on average, than cases detected through other means.

Positive action through data

This cancer screening example illustrates how data analysis can empower benefits managers to improve employees’ health outcomes while reducing costs. Analytics can help employers invest in more effective care management resources, as well as design benefits packages that provide positive VOI in wellness, screening and preventive care.

With the cost of health benefits continuing to rise, it’s critical to leverage data to determine the total value of wellness investments. Just as retailers use data analytics to improve the retail experience and increase profits, benefits managers should use data analytics to guide the design and evaluation of benefits and other rewards.

SOURCE: Kramer, M. (21 January 2019) "Analytics are key to wellness success. Here’s why" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/analytics-are-key-to-wellness-success-heres-why


4 ways to help employees make better choices about what they eat

Are you looking for ways to help your employees reach their wellness goals? The RAND Corporation reported that 60 percent of Americans suffer from at least one chronic condition. Read this blog post to learn more.


Doughnuts in the conference room. Soda and chips from the vending machine. Cookies in the office kitchen. A recent CDC study of employees across the U.S. found that the foods people get at work tend to contain high amounts of salt, sugar and empty calories.

When people are busy and on-the-go — a common reality for full-time employees who spend more than a third of their day at work — it’s all too easy to fall into poor eating habits. And poor eating habits contribute to poor health. According to a RAND Corporation Study, 60% of American adults suffer from at least one chronic condition (like diabetes or high blood pressure) and 42% have more than one. These conditions are costly, and not just for individuals themselves. The CDC estimates that productivity losses related to health issues cost U.S. employers $1,685 per employee per year, or $225.8 billion annually.

For employers that care about wellness, improving food and beverage offerings represents an untapped opportunity: Better nutrition at work can not only have a powerful impact on employee health but also contribute to a happier, more focused and productive workforce. Making large-scale changes across an organization is not always easy, however, especially when it comes to ingrained habits and preferences. What can today’s employers do to incentivize their employees to make healthier choices?

1. Make healthy food and beverages a benefit.

According to Deloitte’s 2018 survey on Global Human Capital Trends, 63% of employees surveyed cited healthy snacks as something they value highly when it comes to wellness. People want to eat healthier, which is great, but when they are busy, they’ll pick up what’s easy and available. And in too many of today’s offices, that means vending machines and office kitchens stocked with ultra-processed foods high in sugar and salt. Not only are these items unhealthy, they can also lead to sluggishness and lethargy as blood sugar levels spike and then crash.

It’s pretty simple: When more nutritious offerings are readily available — and especially if they are free or subsidized — people are more likely to try them. Companies that offer high-quality food and beverages as a benefit will reap rewards not just in terms of a healthier and more productive workforce, but also in attracting and retaining people, like millennials, who value wellness and appreciate the fact that their employer is investing in their health and happiness.

2. Get personal.

Different people have different drivers and different needs. This is why a one-size-fits-all approach to changing habits rarely works. Before making big decisions about your company’s food and beverage services, ask questions: Are some people on special diets or do they keep unusual schedules? What do people like and dislike about current available options? What kinds of foods and drinks do they wish were offered, but aren’t?

With a better understanding of habits, preferences and what drives people to the kitchen or break room in the first place (boredom? low energy? social time?), employers can begin to build a food and beverage profile that’s tailored to their workforce’s individual needs and thus more likely to be embraced.

3. Consider the “psychology” of snacking.

People don’t always make rational decisions — even more so when they are tired, stressed or “hangry.” But when corporations make the healthy choice the easy (and delicious!) choice, it helps. Everything from where snacks and drinks are positioned — are the more nutritious options at eye level? — to the design of kitchen and break room spaces can make a difference in promoting better eating habits.

For example, kitchen spaces that are attractive, comfortable and inviting encourage people to take a little more time and put more thought into selecting their snacks, and can also serve as a welcome place for people to connect with each other and de-stress. Taste is another important consideration. People sometimes assume that healthy food won’t taste as good as the bad stuff, but this is often just a misconception. Special tastings or fun office activities like offering a “snack of the week” can get people to try more nutritious options and see for themselves that they can be just as — if not more — delicious than what they were eating before.

4. Nudge, don’t push.

Don’t expect people to move from potato chips to veggie and quinoa salad overnight. Organizations that start with a few key changes — replacing sugary sodas with flavored water, for example, or swapping out highly-processed snacks and foods with similar, but more nutritious options — will face less initial resistance, and can then build up their healthy offerings over time. Every workplace has their guilty pleasures, whether it’s a specific brand of soda or a favorite candy. Rather than turning people off by taking their “comfort snacks” away, sometimes the best approach is to simply add healthier alternatives and then wait for people discover on their own that these can be equally fulfilling and delicious, and most importantly, make them feel better too.

Workplace wellness initiatives continue to grow in popularity, but there are still questions about whether these programs are as effective as they could be. While health screenings, smoking cessation programs and gym memberships are a good start, corporations shouldn’t overlook a key driver of good health — what their people eat and drink. Providing easy access to a great diet at work is a smart strategy for improving wellness, and one that employees will come to appreciate as a valuable benefit. Plus, healthy, enthusiastic and energized people makes for a much happier and more productive workplace — a win-win for employees and employers alike.

SOURCE: Heinrich, M. (3 January 2019) "4 ways to help employees make better choices about what they eat" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/list/4-ways-to-help-employees-make-better-choices-about-what-they-eat?brief=00000152-14a7-d1cc-a5fa-7cffccf00000


4 trends in employee wellness programs for 2019

Employee wellness programs will be impacted by intelligent personalization, social recognition, virtual wellness and smarter analytics, according to a white paper by MediKeeper. Read on to learn more.


Employee wellness programs will likely be transformed in the coming year by intelligent personalization, social recognition, virtual wellness and smarter analytics, according to MediKeeper’s white paper, “Four Emerging Employee Wellness Trends for 2019.”

“Embracing change and knowing what organizations need to keep driving wellness offerings forward in the next few years will help them lay the groundwork for building stronger employee wellness programs and increasing employee engagement,” says MediKeeper’s CEO David Ashworth. “With health care costs on the rise, companies that pay attention to these key trends will have the greatest success investing in their employees’ overall well-being.”

Intelligent Personalization

Intelligent personalization allows companies to make more informed decisions based on understanding risks and their causes and identifying what is driving present and future cost, according to the white paper.

“Every person is different, so it only makes sense that everyone’s wellness portal experience should also be different — this includes personalization, targeted messages and offerings.,” the authors write. “Adding business intelligence/data mining capabilities delivers the ability to take data captured within the portal, manipulate it, segment it and merge with other sets of data to perform complex associations all within each population groups’ administration portal will be the key to truly managing the population’s health.”

Social Recognition

In the coming year, workplace wellness programs will also implement a multitude of ways to include social recognition that fosters a team-oriented atmosphere intended to encourage people to perform to the best of their abilities, according to the white paper.

“Through social recognition, which can include posting, sharing, commenting and other virtual interactions, employees can help motivate each other to reach their goals,” the authors write. “These interactions foster both a competitive and team-oriented atmosphere that encourages people to perform to the best of their abilities.”

In addition to support from coworkers, managers can also promote their employees’ achievements by offering praise in an online public forum or even further boost morale by handing out incentive points that can be redeemed for tangible rewards.

Virtual Wellness Programming

In 2019, the importance of offering virtual wellness programming will grow as more employees work remotely or set flexible hours, according to the white paper.

“Since employees may work variable hours or work in several locations around the world, it simply doesn’t make sense to solely rely on lunchtime health seminars that may not be accessible to much of the workforce,” the authors write. “Instead of providing physical classes, consider hosting virtual programs that can be viewed at any time or any place. By making your wellness program available online, you’re able to reach a broader audience and make more of an impact within the entire working population.”

Smarter Analytics

Smarter analytics will also be at the forefront in 2019, according to the white paper.

“Now you can generate reports targeted specifically to the information that you are seeking, as well as layering various reports including biometrics, incentives, health risk assessments and challenges, to see what is working and what is not,” the authors write. “You can use these results to inform and better customize the intelligent personalization side of your wellness program. You’ll also be able to send messages from the reports, making them actionable instead of just informative.”

As employers continue to evaluate the effectiveness of their wellness programs, they should keep these four emerging trends in mind in order to ensure that their business is providing all the tools necessary to keep their employees both happy and healthy, according to the white paper.

“Remember that just because you’ve seen success in the past, you can’t just sit back and relax now,” the authors write. “Continual advances in wellness technology mean that you need to stay on top of the trends and adjust frequently in order to remain relevant in an increasingly competitive workplace environment.”

SOURCE: Kuehner-Hebert, K. (28 November 2018) "4 trends in employee wellness programs for 2019" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitspro.com/2018/11/28/4-trends-in-employee-wellness-programs-for-2019/


How to make on-demand fitness work for wellness

Does your business offer on-demand, virtual fitness to their employees? This new technology is making it easier for people to engage in physical activity. Continue reading to learn more.


The way we work out is changing. Technology makes it possible to watch movies, order meals, even rent bikes on our own terms, and people increasingly expect their fitness options to be just as easy. Enter on-demand, virtual fitness.

The demand for virtual fitness is booming. In the United States alone, the virtual fitness market is expected to reach $2.6 billion by 2022. Whether people are too intimidated to go to the gym, have difficulty finding time in their schedules to attend a class, or have difficulty finding classes that fit their needs — virtual fitness makes it easy for them to engage over time.

As a result, more employers are realizing the value of investing in employee health and the benefits of keeping employees physically active. Lack of physical activity contributes to numerous health risks, which can lead to increased healthcare costs and lost productivity. Physical activity has also been found to have a positive impact on mental health and well-being. For example, it’s been estimated that employees who are in poor health are twice as likely as their healthier coworkers to be disengaged from work.

On-demand, virtual fitness is an option that can be more affordable than establishing an on-site gym, and with 35% of employees working remotely, on-demand fitness allows employers to offer the workouts to more employees.

As would-be fitness fanatics increasingly turn to apps to help tone their abs, what should employers know to ensure success? Here are a few strategies.

1. Make it personal. It’s a simple concept: People will be more likely to exercise if they find a workout that appeals to them. The best on-demand options offer classes for a wide range of interests — from cycling to yoga to kickboxing, to mom-and-baby fitness or simple stretching.

2. Make it flexible. People come in all shapes, sizes, and fitness levels. Make sure classes work even if your employees aren’t super fit. Even better, look for something that offers users a natural progression from wherever they start to higher levels of fitness.

3. Make it accessible. The whole point of virtual fitness is that people can take part anytime and anywhere. Look for programming that makes classes available online from a desktop or laptop computer and on both Android and iOS-based smartphones or tablets. This allows employers to make fitness available during lunchtime in the break room, while also giving employees access to short exercises they can do during a break at their desks or even on the road.

4. Make it trackable. Virtual fitness programming can be integrated into your benefits portal to allow for tracking of wellness incentive points. This encourages employees to track their progress and to create a virtual community that encourages the success of all its members.

Today’s workforce is tech-savvy, and that dynamic is only going to become more prevalent. Using mobile devices or apps to give employees what they need to balance life and work will continue to be a smart move for employers.

SOURCE: Von Bank, J. (30 November 2018)  "How to make on-demand fitness work for wellness" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/opinion/tips-to-make-on-demand-fitness-work-for-your-wellness-program?brief=00000152-146e-d1cc-a5fa-7cff8fee0000


Changing the conversation on mental health

Canadian employer, Bell, has helped fund the National Standard for Psychological Health and Safety in efforts to provide voluntary guidelines, tools and resources for employers to utilize. Continue reading to learn more.


NEW ORLEANS — With no existing standard for how to deal with mental health issues from a workplace perspective, one Canadian employer aimed to tackle the stigma around discussing mental illness, using steps that U.S. employers can follow.

Bell, the telecom giant headquartered in Montreal, has helped change the landscape for mental health in Canada by creating a set of guidelines employers can use as they put in place policies that encourage conversations around mental health.

“When we first went on our journey to establish workplace best practices, we couldn’t find any established guidelines,” Monika Mielnik, senior consultant, human resources, workplace health at Bell, said last week at the Benefits Forum & Expo, hosted by Employee Benefit News and Employee Benefit Adviser.

So the company helped fund the National Standard for Psychological Health and Safety to provide a voluntary set of guidelines, tools and resources employers can use.

There are 13 psychological factors within the guide, ranging from workload management and organizational culture to engagement, recognition and reward, which Mielnik says is “low-hanging fruit” for employers looking for a place to start.

Mielnik offers five steps for employers looking to build a successful program that promotes psychological health in the workplace: Commitment and awareness, support services, mental health training, return to work and accommodation processes, and the ability to measure progress.

Before starting out, Mielnik added, “it’s important to engage individuals across the organization to establish successful mental health initiatives.” Getting executive support and sponsorship, a dedicated mental health leader, and cross-functional involvement are also key.

And while commitment is important, awareness is equally necessary, she added. Bell has three annual campaigns with events aimed at engaging and educating employees across the country to address stigma and create a supportive and inclusive environment: Bell Let’s Talk (January), Mental Health Week (May) and Mental Illness Awareness Week (October).

“Understanding there is stigma and taboo around mental health, we want to make sure our employees are educated and aware of the impact it can have on them, their spouses, and others,” she said.

Bell partnered with digital wellness platform LifeSpeak in 2013 to provide employees with around-the-clock access to tools and assistance programs. In addition, Bell created a dedicated intranet page to provide weekly articles and an on-demand video library.

Bell employees access LifeSpeak 97% of the calendar days, said panelist Danny Weill, VP of partnerships at LifeSpeak. “This has become part of their culture. I like how Bell walks the walk. They do all this amazing stuff in the community, and then they do this stuff in the workplace, which is ultimately good,” he said.

In addition to access, mental health training is a huge part of the culture at Bell.

All employees are required to complete the building blocks to positive mental health training – which includes six interactive modules to help improve and maintain their own mental health.

Further, workplace mental health leadership is mandatory for all leaders within the organization. “This training equips leaders with a better understanding of mental health and [helps them to] be better equipped to have a conversation with employees,” she said. “That has been very key for us.” More than 10,000 leaders have been trained to date.

Part of leadership training includes return-to-work processes, as well as accommodation programs, she noted.

Measuring progress within the organization is an important final component of her five-step plan.

“When we took on this cause in 2010, we did it to make a lasting and significant impact,” she said. Dollars and percentages linked to such things as long- and short-term disability rates, utilization of benefits, etc., can all be measured for success, she added.

Bell noted a positive impact over a two- to three-year period, including a 20% reduction in mental health-related short-term disability and a 50% reduction in relapse and reoccurrence rates.

“One key area, and something we did early, is to take a pulse and baseline check with what’s occurring right,” she said. “Look at your short-term claims or any metric results you have that can speak to the mental health area in your workplace.”

There is a misconception that you have to start big and re-create the wheel when it comes to mental health programs, Mielnik said. “Look at metrics and programs in place and either build off or enhance those programs, but that baseline will be a good place to start.”

SOURCE: Otto, N. (3 October 2018) "Changing the conversation on mental health" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from: https://www.benefitnews.com/news/changing-the-conversation-on-mental-health?feed=00000152-18a4-d58e-ad5a-99fc032b0000


Do you have a strong foundation of best practices for your wellness program?

Nine out of 10 U.S. corporations offer some type of wellness initiative, according to a study by the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans. Read on to learn how you can improve involvement in your company's wellness program.


Wellness programs at the office are becoming increasingly popular, but not all of them are as successful as they could be. Here are three simple things you can do to improve involvement in your association’s wellness program.

The International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plan’s new study—A Closer Look: Workplace Wellness Trends—takes a deeper dive into data from one of its previously published studies, with an aim to “determine practices that lead to potential wellness success.”

To do so, IFEBP analyzed responses from 431 U.S. corporations and government entities, and what the foundation uncovered is that nine out of 10 of the respondents offer some type of wellness initiative.

But the wellness initiatives they offer vary, ranging from fitness challenges and employee assistance programs, to healthy food and drink choices in the kitchen and opportunities for employees to do charity work.

Employers’ goals for even instituting wellness initiatives differ widely too. “There are a lot of different reasons why employers have wellness programs,” said Julie Stich, associate vice president of content at IFEBP. “You want your employees to be healthier, not only to keep healthcare costs down, but you want to increase their morale, increase their productivity and efficiency while they’re in the office, [and] you want to cut back on absenteeism …”

No matter the program or the goals associated with it, here are a few ingredients IFEBP has found are essential in creating a successful wellness program:

Leadership involvement.

“What we’ve seen repeated over and over in our analysis of our data was the involvement of leadership,” Stich said. And it’s important that the leaders of the organization support it publicly and communicate about it with their employees, encouraging staff, for example, to go get their flu shot during work hours or get up from their desks and take a walk. But leadership participation in the initiative is also important. “When you’ve got a fitness challenge going on, you actually [want to] see the CEO taking their walk around the building as well,” Stich said.

Communication.

Employers might first ask their employees what they’d like to see in a wellness program, whether a flu shot or a lunch-and-learn session on stress management and then use that feedback in crafting the organization’s wellness program. But, after an organization has launched an initiative, “it’s important to always be reminding employees about your wellness program and its activities,” Stich said.

Incentives.

Offering incentives is a great way to motivate employee involvement in an organization’s wellness initiative. One way to do this is to put the names of staff who are participating in the program into a raffle and then hold a gift card drawing.

Stick it’s important to keep in mind that the results of such a program won’t be revealed quickly. “You’re not going to see a positive or any kind of ROI in the first year,” she said. “If you roll out a new program or a new component of your program, it takes on average three to five years before you can really get a good sense of whether this is working or not and what impact it’s having.”

SOURCE: Smith, K. (20 March 2018) "Do you have a strong foundation of best practices for your wellness program?" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.provanthealth.com/industry-trends/2018/3/26/are-you-succeeding-at-the-three-the-foundational-elements-of-a-successful-program

Original source: Associations Now | Emily Bratcher | How to Boost the Success of Your Workplace Wellness Program


Employers Assess Risk Tolerance with Wellness Program Incentives

Do you offer wellness programs to your employees? Employers are now uncertain to what extent they can use incentives as part of a wellness program. Continue reading to learn more.


Employers designing 2019 wellness programs must decide what approach to take on program incentives without Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) guidance on the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA).

The commission has a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking tentatively slated for January 2019. Last year, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia decided the commission's 2016 ADA and GINA wellness regulations were arbitrary and vacated them, effective Jan. 1, 2019.

Employers again are "in the uncomfortable position of not knowing with certainty whether and to what extent they can use incentives as part of a wellness program that involves medical examinations, disability-related inquiries and/or genetic information," wrote Lynne Wakefield and Emily Zimmer, attorneys with K&L Gates in Charlotte, N.C., in a joint statement.

The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) "has long advocated for proposals that will ensure consistency between the wellness rules that the EEOC has jurisdiction over, the ADA and GINA, with those provided under the ACA [Affordable Care Act]," said Nancy Hammer, SHRM vice president, regulatory affairs and judicial counsel. "While EEOC's 2016 rulemaking effort adopted the ACA's 30 percent incentive, it added new requirements that would have discouraged employers from providing wellness options for employees. We are hopeful that the EEOC is able to revisit the rules to ensure both consistency with existing rules and flexibility to encourage employers to adopt innovative programs to improve employee health and reduce costs."

ADA and GINA Requirements

Employers have long sought guidance over whether and when wellness program incentives—rewards or penalties for participating in biometric screenings and health risk assessments connected with the programs—comply with the ADA and GINA.

The ADA prohibits employers from conducting medical examinations and collecting employee medical history as part of an employee health program unless the employee's participation is voluntary, noted Ann Caresani, an attorney with Tucker Ellis in Cleveland and Columbus, Ohio.

GINA prohibits employers from requesting, requiring or purchasing genetic information from employees or their family members, unless the information is provided voluntarily.

The EEOC in 2000 asserted that for a wellness program to be voluntary, employers could not condition the receipt of incentives on the employee's disclosure of ADA- or GINA-protected information.

However, in 2016, the commission issued regulations providing that the use of a penalty or incentive of up to 30 percent of the cost of self-only coverage would not render involuntary a wellness program that seeks the disclosure of ADA-protected information. The regulations also permitted employers to offer incentives of up to 30 percent of the cost of self-only coverage for disclosure of information, in accordance with a wellness program, about the manifestation of a spouse's diseases or disorder, Caresani said.

Wakefield and Zimmer noted that the EEOC's 2016 wellness regulations applied to wellness programs that provided incentives tied to:

  • Biometric screenings for employees and spouses.
  • Disability-related inquiries directed at employees, which might include some questions on health risk assessments.
  • Family medical history questions, such as risk-assessment questions that ask about the manifestation of disease or disorder in an employee's family member and/or such questions about the disease or disorder of an employee's spouse.
  • Any other factors that involve genetic information.

Court Actions

The AARP challenged the 2016 rule, arguing that the 30 percent incentives were inconsistent with the voluntary requirements of the ADA and GINA. Employees who cannot afford to pay a 30 percent increase in premiums would be forced to disclose their protected information when they otherwise would choose not to do so, Caresani explained.

While the 30 percent cap was consistent with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) as amended by the ACA, the AARP said this was inappropriate, as HIPAA and the ADA have different purposes, noted Erin Sweeney, an attorney with Miller & Chevalier in Washington, D.C..

In addition, the change from prohibiting any penalty to permitting one of 30 percent was not supported by any data, according to the AARP.

In the summer of 2017, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia held that the EEOC's rule was arbitrary. The court sent the regulations back to the EEOC for further revisions.

In December 2017, the court vacated the 2016 rule after the EEOC initially said that the new rule would not be ready until 2021.

Conservative to Aggressive Approaches

Wakefield and Zimmer observed that employers may take several different approaches as they design wellness programs for next year:

  • No incentives (most conservative approach). These types of wellness programs can still include biometric screening and health risk assessments that employees and spouses are encouraged to complete, but no rewards or penalties would be provided in connection with their completion.
  • Modest incentives (middle-ground approach). A modest incentive is likely significantly less than 30 percent of the cost of self-only coverage, given the court's finding that the EEOC did not provide adequate justification for an incentive level-up to 30 percent.
  • Up to 30 percent incentives (more aggressive approach). Although the court did not rule that a 30 percent incentive level would definitely cause a wellness program to be considered involuntary, incentives at this level after 2018 likely will expose employers to lawsuits, they wrote.

Multiple-Point Program

One good way to demonstrate compliance, they noted, is a multiple-point program in which participants engage in different activities and earn an incentive by participating in enough activities apart from biometric screenings, risk assessments or providing their spouse's health information.

For example, an employer could let employees take health care literacy quizzes or offer a program that measures a worker's activity as opposed to fitness, Caresani noted. She said, "Programs that are participatory are probably less effective than outcome-based programs, but they are more popular with employees and are less likely to pose litigation risks."

SOURCE: Smith, A. (1 August 2018) "Employers Assess Risk Tolerance with Wellness Program Incentives" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/legal-and-compliance/employment-law/pages/risk-tolerance-wellness-program-incentives.aspx