Wellness May Get Better

Lawmakers propose tax credits for companies establishing employee wellness programs. But do workers even care about wellness?

Although the concept may be amorphous, “wellness” programs may get a
very tangible boost from Congress. Senators Tom Harkin (D–Iowa) and
Gordon Smith (R–Oreg.)
are cosponsoring a bill that would provide tax credits of up to $200 per
employee for companies that establish programs to help employees stop smoking, lose weight, monitor high blood pressure, and tackle sundry other preventive aspects of health care.

Even with the tax break, such programs represent a leap of faith.
Employees often fail to stick with them long enough to show results, and calculating the return on investment can be
difficult. Only one in seven companies manages to do it, and those that
have found a positive
result tend to be self-insured firms
that can measure a drop in health
claims paid.

The best wellness programs,
according to Bruce Kelley, a senior
consultant with Watson Wyatt
Worldwide, “focus on the top medical
conditions that affect your particular
workforce.” Other keys to
success, according to John Asencio,
a senior vice president at Sibson
Consulting, are good data collection,
consistent participation (which may
hinge on incentives), and corporate
culture. “If turnover [at the company]
is high,” he says, “employees
probably won’t stay long enough to
make a true impact.”

Worthington Industries, a
metal processor with 8,000 employees
in 63 plants, has offered an everexpanding
range of incentive-based
wellness programs for four years, and
says it has achieved a 200 percent
return on its investment. Even so, its
participation rate has flattened at
about 60 percent.

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