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Wellness program measurements evolve

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A recent Business Insurance webinar explored possible strategies for effectively measuring total value of investments in wellness programs.

The Aug. 19 webinar, “Measuring the Value of Investment in Wellness,” examined the ways many employers are expanding methodologies to measure the value of workplace wellness programs as spending on them continues to increase.

The marketplace is moving from a return on investment methodology to a value on investment methodology, according to speaker Dr. Ron Leopold, national practice leader for health outcomes at Willis North America Inc.

A yet-to-be published Willis study asked, “As you look to make the business case for your wellness or health management program, does your organization tend to be more return on investment or value on investment?” Dr. Leopold said during the webinar.

“The way we described that was if you were return on investment, you would say, 'Our organization looks at justified investment and health management and wellness programs purely based on medical cost reduction.' And then value on investment, organizations look at justified investment and health management and wellness programs based on many factors including: employee morale, workplace productivity, employee absence, workplace safety in addition to medical cost reduction. Sixty-four percent of the respondents said they were VOI, and only 28% said they were ROI, which I think represents a maturity in the marketplace,” said Dr. Leopold.

There are costs associated with poor employee health outside of medical and pharmacy costs, he said. “As we start looking at the value of wellness, not only do we want to understand how does wellness lower medical costs, but how does wellness lower absenteeism and presenteeism?” said Dr. Leopold.

One of the examples of presenteeism Dr. Leopold citied is a cable television technician working slower because he is out of breath from an asthma flare-up. An example of absenteeism is three line workers out with the flu and the company needing to hire temporary staffing to get the work done on time.

Measuring the value of health and wellness programs is an ongoing process.

Optum Inc. and the National Business Group on Health conducted an online survey of an online panel from August through September 2014 to answer: Are employers offering health and wellness programs for reasons beyond health care cost reduction? Out of 275 respondents, they found that 91% of employers report offering health and wellness programs for reasons beyond medical cost savings.

Some of the emerging reasons that employers invest in health and wellness programs included improving employee job satisfaction, business performance and profitability, and to attract or retain talented employees, according to speaker Seth Serxner, Eden Prairie, Minnesota-based chief health officer for Optum.

“At the end of the day, the reason I want healthy, engaged employees … it will help my business meet strategic goals,” said Mr. Serxner.

Sandy Rosenberg, vice president of employee benefits and absence management at Cleveland-based KeyBank, presented a case study that examined the benefit and wellness strategy at the financial services company.

KeyBank's medical plan includes online/phone wellness coaching, onsite biometric screenings at larger sites, and outcome-based targets.

“Incentives definitely drive participation in the programs … robust communications plans are critical for the success of these programs, and you need to always look at your measure of success and refine them,” said Ms. Rosenberg.