Wellness Programs v Wellness Benefit

I recently met with a company that had instituted a Wellness Program. After receiving another 20% increase in their health insurance rates, their broker suggested that a Wellness Program would help them receive better rates on their health insurance premium. Unfortunately after six months with little executive support and dwindling participation, the Wellness Program withered in its enthusiasm and became a “Wellness Benefit”.

A "Wellness Benefit" is a Wellness Program that a company has started without a plan. It has no written plan, no stated objectives, no beginning benchmarks, and is not aligned with the corporate business plan. The name "Wellness Program" evokes the need for a comprehensive strategic plan. A strategic “wellness” program should not only address the specific health risk within your employee population but precipitate cultural change. Steve Burd, CEO of Safeway Inc, says, “Too often companies look at wellness as just another benefit. We have fully integrated wellness into every aspect of our company’s culture. It’s a source of pride and reflects how we care for one another. As a result, wellness has become a critical element of our success.”[1]

The first step in creating a comprehensive Wellness Program is to evaluate your company. A proper assessment will help your company develop your Wellness Plan. The evaluation process will allow your management team to discover what your organization is doing right and what changes you may need to make. The assessment allows your organization to develop an approach to wellness around proven success indicators. There are many assessment tools available on the web, but I have included a few questions from the Health Management Initiative Assessment.[2]

  • Is our management team committed to the promotion of health within the organization?
  • How will a health promotion strategy align with our business plan?
  • How can we communicate to our employees that they are the key to driving healthcare cost down?
  • What is the distribution of low risk and high risk employees within our population?

Once the assessment is complete, you now have the basis for designing your plan. Your plan will need to take into account your company’s resources, management philosophy, overall objectives and employees' major health risk. For example, if you find that a large percentage of your employees are stressed from the financial crisis you may need to include a financial counseling component into your plan.

The key to a successful "wellness plan" lies in the discovery, design, implementation and customization. Don't hesitate to consulate with industry experts for advice. In these uncertain economic times, healthcare planning and forecasting is more vital than ever before. I always say, "Leave it to chance...or manage the risk".

About Barth Williams

K. Barth Williams, FICF, has been in the insurance business for over 15 years. He works for Waldo Agencies and an independent insurance agency that specializes in Risk Reduction Planning. He works with companies proactively to help them become a more “attractive” risk to their insurers. He can be contacted at bwilliams@waldoagencies.com.


[1] Source: U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Leading by Example, 2005, pg. 4

[2] Source: 2005 Partnership for Prevention/The Workcare Group, Inc

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