Humana employees who engaged with the health insurer’s HumanaVitality wellness and rewards program over a three-year period had fewer absences from work, lower health claims costs and fewer hospital and emergency room visits than employees who didn’t participate, the insurance giant announced recently.

The report is the latest evidence that wellness is working for employees, especially those who take it seriously.

“Those workers who are taking the wellness program seriously are [seeing a] benefit not only personally, but also on their families,” says Joe Woods, president of HumanaVitality. “Not only do the worker and worker’s family benefit, but so does the employer by showing how they can measure the impacts of their wellness programs.”

[Image credit: Bloomberg]
[Image credit: Bloomberg]

Humana reported that program participants’ health costs decreased 6% in the first year of the program and 10% by the final year. Meanwhile, non-participants’ health costs increased 17% in the same timeframe.

Workers engaged in the wellness program also had an average of six fewer hours of unscheduled absences compared with unengaged members, who averaged 23 hours of unscheduled absences per year. Unengaged workers also had 56% more emergency room visits and 37% more hospital visits than engaged workers, Humana found.

Also important, Humana notes, is the impact of the use of preventive care services.

Employees who engaged in the program and who didn’t have pre-existing chronic health conditions were more likely to use preventive care services, such as routine checkups and screenings.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, chronic conditions are responsible for the bulk of healthcare costs in the United States.

But the Humana research shows how wellness programs can help combat that.

The analysis found the percentage of engaged members in a low-risk range for chronic conditions increased by 24.4% over the three-year study, compared to only 14% for unengaged members. Among all types of medical claims, the biggest difference in healthcare spending between engaged and unengaged employees was seen in those with “lifestyle chronic conditions.”

A critical measure of a wellness program’s success, Woods says, is that it engages both healthy and unhealthy members. So, “one of the big highlights in this study is the improved engagement in people with lifestyle-related chronic conditions,” he says.

HumanaVitality helps members “create highly personal paths to health,” and awards points for steps taken toward better health and for measurable milestones achieved. The points can be redeemed for fitness equipment, personal electronics and rewards from major retailers. Points can also be used for charitable donations, Humana says.

HumanaVitality isn’t just for Humana’s own employees; about 3.9 million members are enrolled, but three-year results from those members won’t be available until Humana releases a broader impact analysis next year.

Wellness continues to grow in popularity, despite some outspoken critics of wellness in the industry. More than two-thirds of U.S. companies offer a general wellness program, according to Society for Human Resource Management statistics.

The bottom line, Woods says, is that “credible wellness and rewards programs with design based on clinical, behavioral and actuarial best practices can be very effective at engaging and improving the health and well-being of members.”

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