RESOLVE TO STRENGTHEN YOUR BENEFITS BUSINESS
Wellness benefits deliver a healthier and more productive workforce
By Michelle White
It’s possible that you’ve already forgotten about some of those New Year’s resolutions. If you’re like many Americans, you probably aspired to eat healthier, get more exercise and save more money.
None of those goals has a straight line to the traditional benefits programs you bring your clients. After all, having health insurance doesn’t necessarily mean employees will make wiser food choices, and signing up for disability coverage isn’t going to inspire them to lace up their walking shoes. But that doesn’t mean you can’t make a big impact on the wellness of your clients’ workers. In fact, there’s a wide array of wellness programs—physical, mental and financial—you can bring to the table to benefit not only your clients and their employees but also your business.
Increase wellness, decrease spending
A healthier workforce is not only more productive, it also helps curb the constantly rising cost of healthcare for both your clients and their employees.
Take absenteeism, for example. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates a $225.8 billion cost to employers—that’s $1,685 per employee—in productivity losses linked to missed work days. And people going to work when they’re sick account for nearly two-thirds of the total cost of worker illness. This negatively affects not only productivity but also morale.
Helping those of us who resolve to lose weight this year also can have a positive impact on medical costs. In fact, employees who maintain a healthy weight incur far lower medical costs—42% less—than those whose are considered obese.
Employee wellness and well-being encompass not only physical health but also financial, mental and emotional health.
The results of a successful wellness program can be measured in fewer sick days, reduced occurrences of preventable chronic conditions, a more positive work environment, increased productivity and higher employee retention rates because of improved morale.
Results also can be measured both on your clients’ bottom line and in their employees’ wallets. Estimates from research vary but generally show a return of at least three to one for every dollar a company invests in a wellness program. Healthier employees spend less on doctor’s office copays, prescriptions and other treatments that may not be covered by medical insurance until they meet their deductibles.
Think broadly about wellness benefits
Employee wellness and well-being encompass not only physical health but also financial, mental and emotional health. These dimensions of well-being overlap and interact: If you’ve ever dealt with a headache while juggling overdue bills, you know that worrying over financial problems can cause stress that can lead to physical health problems.
The good news is that there are many benefit programs you can bring to your clients to help ensure a healthier, happier, more productive workforce. Even better news: Many programs are available at low or no cost from your benefits providers, especially if you’re bringing them a new account or can ensure optimal enrollment conditions.
Here are some wellness programs and services to consider offering your clients and their employees:
- Identity monitoring and restoration. According to IdentityTheft.info, 15 million Americans—that’s 7% of adults—are hit by fraudulent use of their identities each year, with financial losses reaching $50 billion. Identity theft protection provides identity monitoring and helps employees deal with the burden of recovering from identity theft, and it may include a dedicated case manager to act on the victim’s behalf and resolve the issue. Some packages even include a service to make lost wallet replacement quick and easy.
- Financial education. Many American workers don’t understand basic financial concepts. A WalletHub.com WalletLiteracy survey found that 40% of U.S. adults give their personal finance knowledge a grade of C or worse—and even that may be optimistic because scores of those who took the survey averaged only 51% to 70% by state. A financial education program can include access to online calculators, budgeting tools, videos and webinars, and financial coaching by phone.
- Discounts on drugs and medical services. A discount program helps employees save money on doctor office visits, prescription drugs, vision and hearing products and services, lab work and imaging tests. Even if your client already offers a health or prescription drug plan, a discount program can complement it by helping pay for services that are limited or not covered, especially with a high-deductible health plan that leaves employees with considerable financial exposure to out-of-pocket costs.
- Student loan reimbursement support. Many recent graduates are spending a large percentage of their disposable income on student loan repayment. Some studies show that Millennials are more interested in student loan help than in healthcare or retirement funding. And because of debt obligations, Millennials are prone to job-hopping in search of extra income. Some programs allow employees to manage their student loan burden, refinance their debt or find creative ways to pay down the burden. Employers who are committed to keeping Millennial employees engaged and on staff may be willing to contribute to employees’ student loan debt payment.
- Telemedicine. This service provides 24/7 access to board-certified doctors online or by phone. It’s not designed to handle emergency conditions or replace a primary care doctor, but it often can substitute for a visit to a doctor’s office or urgent care facility for common conditions like the flu or pinkeye—saving employees valuable time and money.
- Employee assistance programs. EAPs provide short-term counseling and referral services to help employees with personal and family issues and work/life balance. Services typically include in-person, phone or online counseling and other online tools and educational resources.
- Wellness benefits. Some voluntary coverages such as cancer policies include wellness benefits that pay a set amount for preventive screening tests such as colonoscopies, mammograms and X-rays. This helps catch potential problems earlier, when they’re easier and less expensive to treat. The benefits paid for annual screening tests also make the coverage even more affordable, in effect reducing the net cost of the premiums for employees. The benefit is paid even if the exam is covered by health insurance, and the amount doesn’t depend on the actual cost of the test.
Communication drives participation
Although the benefits of wellness programs may seem obvious, some critics claim they sound good on paper but don’t deliver results. This is true only if employees choose not to participate in the program. The best solution to drive engagement is improved education and communication.
Communication can take many forms. Some companies adopt wellness “champions” or ambassadors who help spread enthusiasm about the program throughout the organization. Other businesses include regular articles in company newsletters or distribute personal benefits statements that highlight the company’s total compensation package.
Partnering with a reliable benefits carrier that offers a full suite of enrollment services, including one-to-one benefits counseling, can help drive higher participation in benefits programs and achieve the desired results from wellness initiatives. Personalized benefits education and consistent wellness messaging help employees understand the importance of wellness and how it can improve their lives—and save them money.
You can differentiate yourself in the marketplace, strengthen your client relationships and build your book of business by adding a healthy dose of wellness offerings to your benefits business. Start the New Year as a wellness champion by encouraging your clients to take advantage of wellness programs and services that can help them save money and create a happier, more productive workforce.
Michelle White is vice president of client management for Colonial Life & Accident Insurance Company. She can be reached at (803) 678-5362 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Colonial provides financial protection benefits through the workplace; these include disability, life, accident, dental, cancer, critical illness and hospital confinement indemnity insurance. For more information visit www.coloniallife.com or connect with the company on social platforms.