More than 80% of the nation’s businesses with 50 or more employees have some form of health promotion program, according to the Wellness Council of America, and this trend is growing.

In fact, a recent Integrated Benefits Institute study found that nearly 70% of companies surveyed indicated they would increase the financial resources available for one or more health or productivity management initiatives.

HR professionals likely will face the task of selecting a provider of employee wellness benefits, such as health coaching, incentive programs, health risk assessments, biometric screenings and/or vaccinations.

Finding the right wellness partner can be a challenge, since providers often bundle and price their services differently. Here are some major points benefit professionals should consider when weighing their wellness options:

Program customization. Most HR professionals know wellness services run the gamut, but confusion sets in around the term “customization.” Some wellness providers offer custom solutions, and others do not. For those that do, keep two things in mind: Determine whether there are added fees for program customization, and determine the meaning of customization with each wellness provider. For example, is customizing limited to color options, or does it mean program components can be fine-tuned to the health needs of your employees, your business culture and other factors? You want to select a vendor who can provide these answers up front and, ideally, one that can create a wellness strategy and programs to fit your business and the people running it, not the other way around.   

Program integration. It’s important to find a wellness provider capable of designing integrated wellness programs. For example, a provider develops a Web-based health risk assessment for a business with employees across the country. It also develops an incentive program and an employee communications plan promoting HRA completion. Then, on the back-end, the vendor compiles and reports the data in a way that is compatible with the employer’s internal software. This example highlights four integrated programs with one end goal. HR professionals should go into vendor selection remembering that wellness programs are only as effective as the degree to which they are built on appropriate and targeted action. Be sure your vendor partner is capable of performing this integration on your behalf.  

Service delivery. Wellness providers offer several ways of delivering services – on-site, telephonically or via the Internet. Ideally, you want a provider capable of all three modalities that can develop the right mix to address the needs of your employee population. Another consideration is whether the vendor administers services using its own trained staff. It’s not uncommon for wellness providers to subcontract their service offerings. This could mean a different team of staff administering flu shots at your offices, conducting telephonic health coaching or managing a website with your employees’ personal health data. The addition of third parties can have implications for service quality. Does this matter to your organization?

Pricing. Another great question that a potential vendor partner should address is whether it has minimum size requirements for its various wellness programs. Some vendors apply minimum eligible employee thresholds (e.g., a minimum of 5,000 eligible employees). Next, note how each vendor prices their programs. Programs can be priced using a flat fee, by employee per month, per participant, per engaged member, per screening and more. Select the common denominator that works best for you and ask the vendors to price their services in that manner. This allows an apples-to-apples comparison. Also, ask for any fees that may be associated with program customization, branding of programs, special reports, online setup fees, HRA change fees and data transfer costs per feed. Hidden fees could cause major headaches down the road and ruin your budget. You want a vendor that can provide all-inclusive pricing from the start.

Compliance guarantees. Will the vendor not only agree to maintain compliance with all HIPAA, PPACA, ERISA, HITECH and GINA regulations, but also include it in their agreement? You want to ensure that your business is protected from a legal perspective and that your vendor assists in ensuring the legal compliance of your wellness program. This peace of mind is particularly vital to companies with multi-state office locations, since each state may have differing regulations. 

Company experience, reputation and structure. The wellness industry is a rapidly growing sector. There are dozens of wellness companies that exist today that did not exist five or 10 years ago. These newcomers may have had success with businesses of a size, industry or employee population similar to yours, so it’s useful to go beyond name recognition and look at the program offerings and program outcomes that lesser known vendors may offer. Many companies have added wellness solutions to their core business lines as a means to capture additional revenue, which may mean a divided focus. Determine your vendor’s passion and whether that passion translates to success when it comes to the delivery and outcomes of their wellness solutions. 

Accreditation and quality assurance. HR professionals should take note whether the vendor holds itself accountable to an accrediting body. Some notable organizations include the National Committee for Quality Assurance, the National Commission for Health Education Credentialing and the Utilization Review Accreditation Committee. NCQA, for example, offers Wellness & Health Promotion Accreditation with Performance Reporting. The purpose of its accreditation is to create a standardized set of measurements, which gives professionals the ability to compare wellness providers.
Also, ask whether the vendor uses some other methods of quality control. For example, what’s the vendor’s success rate with its program delivery? Can the vendors cite its success ratio, defect rate and service recovery policy?

Health plan compatibility. While the vendor may be compatible with your current health plan, keep in mind that your company’s health plan will likely change within a few years. In 2010, J.D. Power & Associates found that more than six out of 10 businesses have used their insurance carrier five years or less. This factor becomes even more important if your business has office locations in different states, which often means you are working with several different health plans. For this reason, finding a wellness provider that is health plan agnostic is your best option.     

Keeping all these points in mind increase your chances of finding the right wellness match for your business and employee health needs. An appropriate wellness solution is a strategic business decision that relies on developing the right relationship with a partner that assists you with the strategic development and management of your wellness solutions. You want your program to establish a foundation, produce outcomes and grow with the ever-changing needs of your population and the climate of health care for years to come.

Heather Provino is the chief executive officer of Provant Health Solutions, a national provider of health and wellness services with Wellness and Health Promotion Accreditation with Performance Reporting from the National Committee for Quality Assurance.

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