wellness programs

Workplace Wellness--Same Old Blame Game


These days nearly every Human Resource department has a wellness function. Larger firms often employ full-time staff to run the program.  However, for most midsize or smaller firms it’s a Benefits pro or HR generalist side gig.  It is these folks who are responsible for coordinating wellness testing and related events.  And right now is their busiest time of year--the “Opening Act” so to speak for the annual benefits open enrollment period.

I don’t envy these folks. Workplace wellness is not an enjoyable gig. Employees hate the intrusiveness of the program and employers; well they just use it as an excuse to look like they are trying to keep health care costs down. Just ask any “Wellness Coordinator” what their biggest gripe is and trust me it won’t be about lack of employee engagement. The biggest gripe these folks have is the constant pressure to keep the numbers up. And not the numbers you think.

  • How many employees received flu shots?
  • How many employees received biometric screenings?
  • How many employees attended this quarter's wellness lunch and learn session?
You see comparing last year's wellness events' attendance to the current years' is often the only program metric the HR dept. tracks.  It's their way of justifying the wellness program to management.  Because wellness program events are voluntary at most workplaces, it’s hard to keep people coming back year after year. But that is exactly what Human Resource department heads expect their low- to mid-level Wellness Coordinators to do. Keep the numbers the same or higher… The fact that research shows that regular screening is unnecessary and has a negative effect on both health and health insurance costs is not an argument HR is willing to hear. Continue Reading...

Can The Apple Watch Replace Traditional Wellness Programs?

Jeb Bush's remarks about how the Apple Watch can transform the American healthcare system didn't go over really well with people who already dislike him and his family. Granted he is not the most articulate guy and we know he's a poor listener, but I'm not sure he meant to say what a lot of people are accusing him of saying. People accused him of saying that the Apple Watch could replace Obamacare or basic medical care.

And while I will never be caught defending a Bush (I have yet to resolve the trauma I experienced when Dubya first became President), I think Jebya was just looking for an opportunity to let everyone know how much he loves his Watch and how it's changing his health habits. And I get it. I got my Apple Watch (Sport) on April 29th and the fitness tracking apps have changed my life. I love getting the reminders to stand and the awards for meeting my fitness goals. Even when I don't receive a reminder, I check to make sure I am on track to meet my daily exercise, calorie and standing goals. If it is getting a little late in the day and I haven't met my goals, I'll clean my bathroom. I leave items I need on the top floor of my house so that I can get them one at a time. I make my dog walk a little longer than she probably wants. I won't go to bed until I meet all of my fitness goals for the day and I refuse to change my goals to make them easier to reach.

As a result, I feel lighter and stronger and motivated to keep using the Activity and Workout apps on my Apple Watch. I look forward to even more apps of this type. I love my Apple Watch!

But if you know anything about my background as an employee benefits professional who helped enroll hundreds of people in health insurance plans, you know I would never suggest that anyone stop paying their health insurance premiums and use the money to buy an Apple Watch. The Apple Watch and other fitness trackers are a great supplement to health insurance, not a replacement of it. But Jebya's jumbled remarks did make me think of something the Apple Watch could replace, and that's a traditional workplace wellness program

Apple Watch Vs. Traditional Workplace Wellness Programs Continue Reading...

Workplace Health Insurance—It’s Not Dead Yet


A lot of people are betting on a future without employer-sponsored health insurance. Entrepreneurs are creating businesses based on this model. Health insurance brokers are courting individuals and enjoying record-breaking business growth. And politicians from all parties are proposing limits to the favorable tax treatment of workplace health insurance. Meanwhile, employers are acting like business as usual in administering their health insurance plans.

They continue to rely on lame tactics like wellness programs and private exchanges to control health insurance costs. When just a few years ago employers were mocking the return on investment (ROI) claims of workplace wellness programs. Today they vainly commit to these programs despite all the evidence their initial skepticism was right. They embrace the private exchanges created by big insurers and big consulting firms. The same groups they’ve been partnering with for decades and whose only talent is to create more ways to shift costs to employees. So in a sense it really is business as usual for employment based health insurance. Without optimism or enthusiasm employers continue to employ the same follow-the-leader strategies they’ve been using since, well, forever.

Regulation and Revolution Continue Reading...

2014 - A Historic Year in Employee Benefits


Now is the time of year for every writer to create their Best Of list or make predictions for the upcoming year. However, for me 2014 was too extraordinary a year in health insurance and retirement plan public policy to reduce to simple lists. This year we witnessed the implementation of historic health insurance legislation reminiscent of the passage of the Social Security Amendments that created the Social Security and Medicare programs. We also saw many states and the federal government focus their policy power on expanding access to workplace retirement plans.

But if I absolutely have to sum up the year in employee benefits and give fellow benefits pros something to think about for next year, I would say don't forget the origins of your field. And if you think there is too much regulation of employee benefit plans then you forget that that is where benefits got its start. You forget that health insurance plan and retirement saving plans are part of state and federal tax code and social policy. And that is why as a Certified Employee Benefits Specialist (CEBS) with a master's degree in public policy, I am excited about the current employee benefits environment and its future.

However, not everything employee benefits related is exciting or good to me. Health insurance plan prices are still too high, even on the exchanges. Health insurance concepts are too complex. The ascension of high deductible health plans is a crisis in waiting. Health care prices are still hidden. Workplace retirement plans are also too complex and risky. Retirement plan fees are too high and employer matches too low. Workplace wellness programs are a failure for nearly everyone except the workplace wellness industry. And public pension plans are under attack due to jealousy as much as economics.
Continue Reading...