Employers continue to back wellness programs as a way to help control employee health care costs, even though many of them are operating in the blind when it comes to return on investment or most effective strategies. The largest employers (20,000 or more) are the most likely to have done cost-benefit analysis on their workforce health management, but even in that group, only 46% of employers have done so.

There’s a lot of noise in the wilderness, say sources with the National Business Coalition on Health. Think identifying wellness priorities and action plans is as easy as a claims analysis? Think again. And even when you know your problem areas, choosing the best solution can be just as difficult.

To that end NBCH has developed ValuePort, an online benefits administration and strategy tool designed to help employers adopt value-based health strategies tailored to their populations. Combining demographic information with data on resources, conditions on the ground and proven best strategies, ValuePort aims to change how HR looks at wellness.

“There’s a lot of information available to employers, but it’s often difficult for them to determine which programs to prioritize,” says Tim F. Kowalski, chief medical officer, Progressive Corporation. “This new tool will help employers pinpoint areas for improvement and identify strategies that can make the most impact.”

Tested in a pilot phase this year, ValuePort soaks in population information before offering up ways to cheaper health. The benefits portmanteau should fill in a gap for those looking “to better improve quality and control cost” says NBCH chief operating officer Karen Linscott, who adds that her group questioned scores of employers about what could help meet their wellness needs.

“And they gave us a range of answers,” Linscott says. “They really want evidence. They have all their friends call them, all their vendors call them, and say ‘This is this best thing since sliced bread.’ And they have a very hard time working through the evidence of what has truly been shown to be best practices.”

ValuePort consists of a trio of tools: a cost calculator to identify and prioritize areas for improvement, customized analysis of an employer’s progress and evidence-based strategies for moving forward. Seven business tested it out in 2013, all of them with more than 40 employees.

One of those who took part in the pilot program is David Burnison, the director of HR for St. Vrain Valley Schools, which is a member of the Colorado Business Group on Health. Burnison says he could sense that his 4,000 employees – 3,200 of whom are benefits-eligible – would be well-served by ValuePort.

“When we learned about it, as an opportunity to participate in the pilot we thought, we should engage quickly. Any good activity that helps us wade through the myriad of options for how to engage employees on value-based health management strategies – what can we do as an employer to provide support for keeping costs down to a minimum?” Burnison says. “We just felt like there were so many options out there today, trying to get you to save money … and we needed something that will narrow it down to the two or three strategies that could really work for us.”

To read all about NBCH’s ValuePort offering, read the Jan. 1 EBN.

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