Workplace Wellness Programs

Within just the past decade or so, Workplace Wellness has become an industry within an industry.  In fact, as a benefits broker/consultant, I get as many calls from Wellness program vendors as I do from insurance companies, seeking new client opportunities.  Recently I came upon an article that made some interesting points relative to Workplace Wellness programs, and the potential outlay of employer dollars in the interest of reducing health care related claims costs.  Here are some thoughts for readers and stakeholders to ponder:

  • On average, U.S. citizens consume about 2,700 calories per day.
  • Healthy food costs significantly more than unhealthy food.
  • The per calorie difference in the cost of healthy versus unhealthy food is significant.  Just look at these examples:
    • Tortilla chips, hot dogs and cheese curls – $.001/calorie
    • Ground beef and Italian sausage – $.003/calorie
    • Apples and pears – $.007/calorie
    • Blueberries, grapes, and cucumbers – $.01/calorie (10 times the chips, dogs, and curls!)
    • Fresh vegetables – $.02/calorie (20 times the chips, dogs, and curls!)
  • On average the difference between the healthy and unhealthy food is about $.33 or 1/3 of a cent.  If you multiply this $.33 x the average daily calorie intake of 2,700, it comes to $9 more, per person, per day to eat healthier.
  • The annual difference in eating healthy versus unhealthy, based on the previous calculation, amounts to $3,000 per person, per year.

So one way of looking at structuring a Workplace Wellness Program that provides the appropriate incentive to employees (and dependents) to “eat well”, would be to compensate for this $3,000 difference, again, per person.  Clearly, such an approach would be neither reasonable or affordable, but it does make you think about one of the major challenges we face as a nation, and as employers offering health insurance benefits.

Remember, of the $2.7 trillion in U.S. health care spending (in 2012), there are estimates that as much as 75% of this amount is attributable to PREVENTABLE conditions, largely related to certain BEHAVIORS (e.g., eating, drinking, smoking, driving without a seat belt on, etc.).  And one health care economist (Dr. Jonathon Gruber; MIT) estimates that roughly 1/3 of this total outlay ($800 billion) is attributable to unnecessary diagnostic tests, procedures, and extra hospital days.

In conclusion, it benefits all of us to design and implement Workplace Wellness programs that work in conjunction with Consumer Driven Health (CDH) plans, in the interest of helping plan members become better, smarter, and more prudent health care consumers.