In analyzing ways to contain ever-escalating health care costs, many employers are seeing tangible returns from wellness programs – but continuing to place the blame on employees and their bad health habits for much of those rising costs.

The most recent Willis Health and Productivity Survey does provide evidence that the wide array of wellness programs in place at employers across the country are producing benefits to the bottom line, with approximately 49% of employers surveyed with wellness initiatives reporting an improvement in their medical costs or an improved risk profile among workers.

Despite a litany of wellness offerings and a more health-oriented culture in general, the survey found that 61% of employer respondents still identified their employees’ health habits as the key challenge in controlling health care costs, more so than ACA compliance efforts or even traditional big-ticket items such as high catastrophic cases, specialty pharmacy benefits or high-cost medical technologies.

Approximately 68% of the companies surveyed indicate that they offer some variation of an employer-sponsored wellness program, a 9% increase from last year; more than three-quarters of those surveyed with a wellness program use an incentive to drive participation in their wellness offerings. Most commonly, that includes a premium contribution to a medical plan to lower employee costs.

Nearly two-thirds of employers also admit that providing their employees with tools and information to become better consumers is the prime strategy they’re using to help address those rising costs. Some 54% of employers surveyed indicated that they had implemented a high-deductible health plan to try to address rising health care costs.

“These results suggest that the shift of costs and risks to employees is on the rise, but so is a recognition that employers benefit from helping employees and their families make better decisions about their health,” says Dr. Roland Leopold, practice leader in health outcomes with Willis. “Employer organizations should focus on programs and benefit design that influences and motivates positive behaviors.”

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