More employers linking wellness incentives to health outcomes

U.S. employers are increasingly relying on incentives to drive participation in health programs and encouraging employees and their families to take better care of themselves, according to new survey findings from Aon Hewitt, the global human resource solutions business of Aon plc.

The survey of nearly 2,000 U.S. employers representing more than 20 million employees and their dependents also shows increased interest in linking incentives to a result over program participation.

Most employers (84%) say they now offer incentives for participating in a health-risk questionnaire (HRQ) and almost two-thirds (64%) offer an incentive for participation in biometric screenings.

Just over half (51%) of the survey respondents provide incentives to employees who participate in health improvement and wellness programs. The use of monetary incentives, in particular, has increased dramatically over the past year. In 2012, 59% of employers used monetary incentives to promote participation in wellness and health improvement programs, up from 37% in 2011. The use of monetary incentives for participating in disease/condition management programs almost tripled in 2012 to 54% from 17% in 2011.

Of companies with incentives, 58% offer some form of incentive for completing lifestyle modification programs, such as quitting smoking or losing weight. About one-quarter offer incentives for progress or attainment made toward meeting acceptable ranges for biometric measures such as blood pressure, body mass index, blood sugar and cholesterol.

Employers also are requiring more of participants in order for them to be eligible for enhanced benefits, such as value-based insurance designs (VBID). Of the 46% of organizations that incorporate some type of VBID approach in their health plans, almost one in three require completion of a HRQ or require participation in a program such as disease management or smoking cessation programs to receive the enhanced benefits. This is a 33% age point increase from 2011, where nine out of 10 employers did not impose any requirements.

“Programs and tools like HRQs and biometric screenings can make employees more aware of their health status and of the opportunities to improve their health, but alone they won’t move the needle when it comes to health improvement and mitigating cost,” said Jim Winkler, chief innovation officer for health and benefits at Aon Hewitt.

“Incentives solely tied to participation tend to become entitlement programs, with employees expecting to be rewarded without any sense of accountability for better health,” he continued. “To truly impact employee behavior change, more and more organizations realize they need to closely tie rewards to outcomes and better results rather than just enrollment.”

Despite increased employer interest in tying incentives to results, the survey shows room for improvement. More than 80% of employers provide an incentive to complete a health questionnaire, yet less than 10% provide an incentive to address the results of the questionnaire. Additionally, more than 60% of employers provide an incentive to complete biometric screening, but less than 10% provide an incentive to take any action.

“Employers know that eight health behaviors, including risks such as lack of physical activity and failure to complete recommended preventive screenings, drive 15 chronic conditions that lead to higher medical costs and increased absence from work,” said Stephanie Pronk, clinical health improvement leader for health and benefits at Aon Hewitt. “An effective incentive strategy rewarding those who take action to improve their health is fundamental for improving health and reducing cost.”

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