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Most employers offer wellness programs, survey shows

Posted On: Jun. 30, 2015 12:00 AM CST

LAS VEGAS — Research from the Society for Human Resource Management Inc. shows employers are turning to chronic disease management programs, fitness classes and even massages to combat rising health care costs.

According to the survey of 463 employers that SHRM released Monday, 28% of employers have increased the benefits they offer employees this year.

Seventy percent of employers offer wellness programs, and 8% plan to in the next 12 months, SHRM found. In addition, 46% of employers offer health and lifestyle coaching, 44% provide smoking-cessation programs, and 40% offer chronic disease programs, according to the survey.

“Wellness benefits provide employers with a preventive approach that can reduce health care expenses for organizations over the long haul,” Evren Esen, director of SHRM's survey programs, said in a statement.

Aside from costs, wellness programs increase engagement and get employees “energized and excited,” Ms. Esen said during a news conference in Las Vegas during SHRM's annual conference.

Incentives and insurance premium discounts remain drivers of wellness program participation, SHRM said. Forty percent of employers offer incentives for participating in wellness programs, up from 31% last year, and 25% of employers offer health care premium discounts for employees who get an annual health risk assessment, up from 21% last year, SHRM said.

Companies also are shifting costs to employees through high-deductible health plans. Forty-three percent of companies now have consumer-directed health plans linked to health savings accounts, an 8 percentage point increase from last year. Thirty percent of employers contribute to those HSAs, a 10 percentage point increase from a year ago, according to SHRM's survey.

Several new benefits may shed light on where employers are headed. SHRM said 6% of organizations provide medical tourism as a benefit, meaning employees may travel out of town for procedures that are less expensive elsewhere, and 2% offer egg-freezing coverage for women.

Thirty-four percent of employers offer fitness challenges, and 13% provide employees with wearable devices, such as fitness bands or activity trackers.

Ms. Esen said wearable devices could help employers understand workers' habits so employers can better make benefits decisions.

However, other benefits are contracting, SHRM said. More employers are eliminating vacation cash-out programs, postal services, childcare referral services and onsite stress reduction programs. However, Ms. Esen said, “not a huge amount of employers offered these to begin with.”