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Worksite Wellness

By Cathy Aguirre

Employers increasingly are realizing the value that worksite wellness programs deliver as an effective tool to improve employee health, increase productivity, reduce absenteeism and lower health care costs.

A 2003 report published by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) highlighted how important it is for employers to incorporate health promotion as part of their business strategy. The report asserts that preventable diseases place a heavy toll on business, including lower productivity and higher health insurance costs.

The HHS estimates that $1.66 trillion was spent on health care in 2003. and it attributes a majority of those costs to chronic diseases and conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, obesity and asthma. Sadly, the money allocated for preventing or controlling these conditions is negligible.

In a recent article, American Cancer Society CEO John Seffrin reported twothirds of cancer deaths in the United States could be prevented through lifestyle changes in diet, exercise, cancer screening and "especially tobacco use. A well-designed worksite wellness program, provided by your health benefits company, serves the best interests of both employer and employee.

Bottom line return on investment

Ron Goetzel, a nationally recognized expert in the field of health management, data analysis and applied research, said in a recent interview that with an investment of $100 to $150 per employee per year in health promotion, an employer can expect an average return on investment of approximately $3 for every $1 invested ($300 to $450 savings per employee per year).

Goetzel says, however, that these returns are not typically realized until two to three years into the wellness program. Legislative incentives Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) has been an outspoken proponent in seeking legislative solutions for a strained health care system.

"As a nation, we have a "sick care system that is focused on helping people after they get sick, rather than a "health care system which focuses on keeping healthy people healthy, he says.

Harkin introduced the Healthy Lifestyle and Prevention (HeLP) America Act of 2004. One of the initiatives under Title II - Healthier Communities and Workplaces, provides tax credits to businesses that offer comprehensive programs to promote employee health and grants for small business.

Worksite wellness, getting started Implementing a worksite wellness program with your health insurance carrier can be accomplished with simple, lowcost strategies.

Offer incentives for participation.

Create a wellness campaign.

Schedule seminars on nutrition, diabetes and cholesterol.

Establish programs such as fitness, sleep diary, smoking cessation and injury prevention.

Offer chair massages or simple stretching exercises to do at the desk.

Change vending machine options to offer healthier, low-fat snacks and drinks.

Work with a health insurance carrier that can implement, manage and maintain your program. Actively promote employee participation.

A successful worksite wellness program can boost company morale, enhance productivity, reduce organizational conflict, attract superior workers and lower the rate of employee turnover.

The case for establishing a worksite wellness program is well worth the effort.

About The Author
CATHY AGUIRRE, vice president of account services for VISTA, has more than 18 years of experience in managed care marketing. She provides leadership for all of VISTA's commercial accounts, which include Broward County Government, The School Board of Broward County, Broward Sheriff's Office, Miami-Dade Government, Sears, Walgreen's and United Airlines. Reach her at (954) 965-3471 or © 2005 Smart Business Network Inc. Reprinted from the March 2005issueof Smart Business Broward/Palm Beach.

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