Business of Well-being

Wellness Programs are not just for the Big Companies Anymore!

As employers are looking at ways to reduce expenses to keep their doors open and remain profitable during this tough economy, they are looking at the cost of providing benefits.  Health insurance, disability insurance, sick days and retirement plans are some of the benefits that employers are looking at changing to reduce expenses.  

One way an employer can save on their health care costs, reduce usage of disability benefits and sick days is to implement a wellness program. Last year, Americans spent a staggering $2.4 trillion on health care, accounting for more than 16% of our gross domestic product (GDP).  

As if that's not bad enough, more than 50% of that expense was for illnesses related to lifestyle choices. Our population is less active and eats more than the people of any other industrialized nation. We smoke and abuse alcohol and take poor care of our bodies.

Studies show that more than 65% of our country is overweight or obese and that those conditions lead directly to diabetes, heart disease and cancer. From 1978 to 2000, the number of obese Americans has doubled, accounting for 62% of the rise in health care spending. Only 33% of adults exercise three or more times a week.

Over 33% of adults have high blood pressure and 50% of us have elevated cholesterol readings. There are still 22% of Americans who smoke, adding $157 billion in health care spending. We as a nation are very unhealthy and we need to change our health by understanding what we are doing and not doing to ourselves.

We as Americans have the luxury of being able to use many of today's conveniences. As we leave our homes each morning, we first use the garage door opener to open the door instead of having to manually open it. We then head to our place of work and park in the closest open parking space to the front door so we don't have to walk too far.

Once in the building we may take the elevator as a convenience instead of walking up a flight of stairs to only sit at our desk for the day. We need to make smarter choices of being more active and taking the time to exercise to help our health. We also don't eat as healthy as we should. Many of us consume larger portions than is recommended, or eat at the many fast food places that are on almost every other corner.

Most of us don't realize what we are eating and that what we eat has a major effect on our overall health. Poor eating habits are leading to high cholesterol, diabetes and heart disease. We need to be more aware of what we are eating, how much we are eating and how often we are eating.

Americans today are now more willing than ever before to make positive changes to improve their own heath. The issue is that most Americans don't know how to improve their health or where to go to get information to help them. One may say that a person can easily go to the internet or book store to obtain information to eat better or exercise, but does that information pertain to that person.

People need to be able to have a program that will help guide them through their own situation, challenges and ultimately achieve their goals of becoming healthier. With the current health care debate in Washington the one thing both parties seem to agree upon is promoting wellness and helping get America healthier.

Wellness programs have shown that not only can health care costs be reduced by over 50%, but that Americans are happier and more productive at work. Employers have been able to see a reduction in the amount of sick days and short term disability which in return saves them money. What is a wellness program?

A Wellness program can be defined as a health promotion program in the worksite that is intended to assist employees and their family members in making voluntary behavior changes that reduce their health risks, improve their health and enhance their individual productivity and well-being. The key word here is behavior changes.

Anyone can eat healthier for a week, join a gym for a month or even quit doing anything for the short term. To really become healthier for the long term, we need to learn to change our behaviors and need to make a choice to assume responsibility of our health. The one problem is that most wellness programs are designed to work well with large employers with over 200 employees and even better for those with over 1,000 employees.  

A U.S. Census Bureau study in 2004 showed that 85% of all employees work for companies that have less than 99 employees. With the average size employer in America being 12 employees, most employers are having a tough time finding a wellness program to help them.

A 2009 Kaiser/HRET Survey of Employer-Sponsored Health Benefits shows that while 93% of employers with over 200 employees offer at least one wellness program, only 57% of smaller employers offer a wellness program. Small employers stated that 61% of them believe a wellness program is effective in improving the health of their employees and 49% believe that they are effective in reducing their health care costs.

As you can see with this study there is a huge need to promote wellness programs to those employers with fewer than 200 employees. When small employers offer and properly promote wellness programs to their employees they can receive greater benefits even when only 8 or 9 participate.

Since this would represent a large percentage of their employee population they would be able to see substantial saving on paying for sick days, reduced health care claims and increased productivity and employee morale. With new technology and an increased focus there are now wellness programs that are available to the smaller employers.  

These small employers still have the same needs as the large employers. They have employees that smoke, have poor eating habits, lack physical activity and that are overweight. Wellness programs that were once only available to large employers are now available to the small employers. The small employer can now offer online wellness programs, smoking cessation programs, discount gym memberships and even bio-metric testing to their employees.  

These programs are even affordable to fit the budgets of the small employers without breaking the bank. Some programs are available for less than $3.00 per employee per month and go up from there. The biggest challenge for the small employers regarding wellness programs is to make them aware that they can offer the same types of programs that had previously been only available to the larger employers.  

They need to start asking their health insurance agent or consultant about these types of programs.

About the Author

With 17 years of experience in insurance and wellness, Scott brings strong leadership and a proven track record to the role of CEO of My Wellchoice+.  Following two years with the MONY Group, he started his own insurance company, Scott Leavitt Insurance & Financial Services out of Boise, Idaho. Scott is also the co-founder of My Wellchoice+.

He has been quoted widely on health care, insurance and wellness, including in The Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, INC Magazine, Fox Business, Benefit Selling, Employee Benefit Advisor, Health Plan Weekly and on National Public Radio. Scott was the 2008-2009 President of NAHU and also serves on the NAHU Education Foundation.

About My Wellchoice+

My Wellchoice+ brings effective and affordable wellness programs to small and large businesses to reduce costs for employers and foster healthy behaviors for employees. These programs are designed to engage employees and their families in active fitness, healthy eating and behavior management that lead to meaningful change and real results.

Each of the My Wellchoice+ wellness programs are built around a philosophy of plan, coach and reward to reach optimal effectiveness. A personalized plan bestows confidence that your goals can be achieved; an easy to access coach provides motivation and clarity to your objectives and rewards strengthen your resolve to stay committed and improve your own personal health.

It's our passion to provide every individual, family and organization the knowledge and tools to improve their personal and collective health and wellness. My Wellchoice+ is headquartered in the active and health-conscious city of Eagle, Idaho.  For more information, visit us at or call 208-376-7897.

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