All posts tagged wellness

Measuring program value, or return on investment, is critical and imperative in managing a healthy wellness program. Further, clearly identifying and objectively evaluating the impact helps keep the vendor focused on what is critical for the employer. If these programs are not having the impact intended, then the cost of those services is only adding to medical spending waste.

When adding wellness services to any employer benefits package, it is imperative to clearly identify the intended impact and outcome. Outcomes fall into three general categories:

  1. Employee satisfaction with the employer, which adds to recruitment and retention
  2. Reducing biometric risk and improving the health of the population
  3. Reducing medical spending

Employee Satisfaction

In the book, Shared Values, Shared Results by Dee W. Eddington, Ph.D., and Jennifer S. Pitts, Ph.D., the value of employees appreciating the benefits an employer offers is clearly outlined as a win-win strategy. If an employer’s intent in providing wellness services is to improve the support for its employees, then measuring the satisfaction related to those outcomes is critical. Employee surveys are typically the best approach to gather outcomes related to these intended programs. Some key questions to ask may include:

  • Is working at this organization beneficial for my health? (“Strongly Agree” to “Disagree” responses)
  • Do I trust that my organization cares about me? (“Strongly Agree” to “Disagree” responses)
  • Which of the following wellness program initiatives do you find to be valuable? (list all programs offered)

Collecting employee, or spouse, feedback on these programs will provide insight to allow an employer/ consultant to know if programs are appreciated, or if modifications are required in order to achieve the desired outcomes.

Reducing Biometric Risk and Controlling Disease

If the intent of a wellness program is to help improve the health of individuals so that future medical spending will be reduced, then it is critical to determine if the program is engaging the correct members and then measure the impact on their risk. At Vital Incite, we utilize Johns Hopkins’ risk indexing along with biometric risk migration to provide feedback to vendors and employers of the impact of their programs. Some suggested goals may include:

  • Engaging 80 percent of persons with high risk biometrics
  • Reduction in weight of persons overweight or obese by greater than 5 percent in 30 percent of the engaged population
  • Of diabetics with an A1c greater than 7 percent, 80 percent will reduce their A1c by 1 percent in one year
  • Of persons with blood pressure in the high-risk range, 40 percent will have achieved controlled blood pressure without adding medications in one year
  • Of persons who take fewer than 10,000 steps per day, 70 percent will increase their average step count by 20 percent or more

These goals need to be very specific and targeted to address the exact needs of your population, measuring what is most likely to have an impact on a person’s long-term health. This provides specific direction for your wellness providers, but allows an employer/consultant to monitor the impact throughout the year to continue to redirect communication and services to help provide the best outcomes.

The first step in any program is to engage the intended audience. UBA’s Health Plan Survey finds that 54.6 percent of employers with wellness programs use components such as on-site or telephone coaching for high-risk employees, an increase of 7.5 percent from last year. Once you target the intended audience, engagement of those at risk is critical. Monitoring this subset of data can make sure the vendor resources are directed appropriately and, many times, identify areas where the employer may be able to help.

Engagement of High Risk Individuals in CoachingOf course, engagement is only the first step and the intended outcome is to reduce risk or slow down the progression of risk increasing, that is really the final outcome desired. The following illustration allows employers and the vendor solution to monitor the true impact of the program by reviewing the risk control, or improvement based on program participation.

Participant vs non-participant results

Reducing Medical Spending

Although many employers are interested in helping their employees become healthier, the reality is these efforts have to help reduce medical costs or increase productivity so these efforts are sustainable. Since, to date, few employers have data on productivity, the analysis then is focused on reducing medical spending. The correct analysis depends on the size of your population and the targeted audience, but a general analysis to determine if those engaged are costing less than persons who have similar risk on your plan would look something like the analysis below.

participant engagement chart

If your program is targeted specifically on a disease state, then the impact on the cost to care for that disease state may be more appropriate. In the example below, the employer instituted a program to help asthmatics, and therefore, the analysis is related to the total cost to care for asthma comparing the year prior to the program to the year of the program. In this analysis, the impact is very clear.

Impact of Program on Cost for all ID-Asthma

The employer anticipated first year savings due to high emergency room (ER) utilization for persons with asthma and the report proved that along with ER utilization declining, the total cost of care for asthma significantly declined.

Summary

In summary, having a clear understanding of the expectation and desired outcomes and monitoring that impact throughout the year, we believe, drives better outcomes. When we first started analyzing outcomes of programs, the impact of many programs were far less impressive than vendor reports would allow us to believe. That false sense of security is not because they were trying to falsify information, but the reports did not provide enough detail to fully illustrate the impact. Most vendor partners don’t have access to all of the data to provide a full analysis and others will only show what makes them look good. But, if you identify the impact you need in order to achieve success, all parties involved focus on that priority and continually work to improve that impact. We believe that wellness programs can have an impact on a population culture, health and cost of care if appropriately managed.

Originally published by www.ubabenefits.com

Question: Are we required to allow employees (either exempt or nonexempt) to work from home if we must close the office due to bad weather?

Answer: No, employers are not required to allow employees to telework (work from home or another location; virtual work) under any specific weather conditions regardless of Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) exemption status. However, employers may allow employees to telework. Company policy should delineate procedures for both teleworking and notice requirements when inclement weather affects the workplace; for instance, notice from the employer that the workplace is closed and notice from the employee that they cannot travel to the workplace due to weather-related or other emergency conditions. These policies should be in the employee handbook, and should also detail whether the employer will allow nonexempt employees to make up missed time.

Note that if the employer closes the workplace for weather-related reasons, nonexempt employees are not entitled to pay because such employees are only entitled to compensation for hours actually worked. However, an employer may allow nonexempt employees to use accrued paid time off so as to receive compensation during such an absence. If paid time off is not available, then the time off remains unpaid.

Alternatively, exempt employees who are able and available to work but do not work because the employer closed the workplace due to inclement weather are still entitled to their full week of pay. This is because the exempt employee is available to work but rather the employer made the work unavailable. As a general rule, if an exempt employee performs any work during the workweek, they must be paid their full salary amount. An employer may not make deductions from an exempt employee’s pay for absences caused by the employer or by the operating requirements of the business. If the exempt employee is ready, willing and able to work, an employer cannot make deductions from the exempt employee’s pay when no work is available. Additionally, the U.S. Department of Labor specifically states that an example of an improper deduction from an exempt employee’s pay includes deduction of a days’ pay because the employer was closed due to inclement weather.

Originally published by www.thinkhr.com

Historically, employers have utilized health risk assessments (HRAs) as one measurement tool in wellness program design. The main goals of an HRA are to assess individual health status and risk and provide feedback to participants on how to manage risk. Employers have traditionally relied on this type of assessment to evaluate the overall health risk of their population in order to develop appropriate wellness strategies.

Recently, there has been a shift away from the use of HRAs. According to the 2016 UBA Health Plan Survey, there has been a 4 percent decline in the percentage of employer wellness programs using HRAs. In contrast, the percentage of wellness programs offering biometric screens or physical exams remains unchanged – 68 percent of plans where employers provide wellness offer a physical exam or biometric screening.

One explanation for this shift away from HRAs is an increased focus on helping employees improve or maintain their health status through outcome-based wellness programs, which often require quantifiable and objective data. The main issue with an HRA is that it relies on self-reported data, which may not give an accurate picture of individual or population health due to the fact that people tend to be more optimistic or biased when thinking about their own health risk. A biometric screening or physical exam, on the other hand, allows for the collection of real-time, objective data at both the individual and population level.

Including a biometric screening or physical exam as part of a comprehensive wellness program can be beneficial for both the employer and employees. Through a biometric screening or physical exam, key health indicators related to chronic disease can be measured and tracked over time, including blood pressure, cholesterol levels, blood sugar, hemoglobin, or body mass index (BMI). For employees, this type of data can provide real insight into current or potential health risks and provide motivation to engage in programs or resources available through the wellness program. Beyond that, aggregate data collected from these types of screenings can help employers make informed decisions about the type of wellness programs that will provide the greatest value to their company, both from a population health and financial perspective.

One success story of including a physical exam as part of a wellness program comes from one of our small manufacturing clients. From the initial population health report, the company learned that there was a large percentage of its population with little to no health data, resulting in the inability to assign a risk score to those individuals. It is important to note that when a population is not utilizing health care, it can result in late-stage diagnoses, resulting in greater costs and a burden for both the employee and employer. In addition, there was low physical compliance and a high percentage of adults with no primary care provider. In order to capture more information on its population and better understand the current health risks, the company shifted its wellness plan to include annual physicals as a method for collecting biometric data for the 2016 benefit year. Employees and spouses covered on the plan were required to complete an annual physical and submit biometric data in order to earn additional incentive dollars.

By including annual physicals in its wellness program, positive results were seen for employees and spouses and the company was able to make an informed decision about next steps for its wellness program. After the first physical collection period, the percentage of individuals with little to no information was reduced from 31 percent to 16 percent (Figure A). Annual physical compliance increased from 36 percent in 2015 to over 80 percent in 2016 (Figure B), which means more individuals were seeing a primary care provider. As a result of increased biometric data collection and one year of Vital Incite reporting, the company was able to determine next steps, which included addressing chronic condition management, specifically hypertension and diabetes, with health coaching or a disease management nurse.

Figure A – RUB Distribution 2014 – 2016

RUB Distribution 2014-2016

Figure B – Preventive Screening Compliance

Preventive Screening Compliance

Employers that are still interested in collecting additional information from employees may consider including alternatives to the HRA, such as culture or satisfaction surveys. These tools can allow employers the opportunity to evaluate program engagement and further understand the needs and wants of their employee population.

Originally published by www.ubabenefits.com

 

Did you know studies convey that 20% of the population, or 1 in every 5 adults suffer from some sort of mental health condition? Mental health has become a substantially concerning issue in America’s workplace, and therefore a top priority in employee wellness. Mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder cause workers to perform less efficiently on a daily basis, which in turn creates negative effects on both the employees and employers.

Unaddressed mental health problems can leave employees unhappy and less efficient at work, as well as having financial consequences for employers. Studies conducted show that mental health conditions left without treatment cost employers nationwide a total of $80- $100 billion per year. In addition, employers have a duty to ensure physical and mental safety for their workers. In the past, companies have typically encouraged employees to see therapists and potentially receive medication. These treatments can be very effective. According to a recent study by the Partnership for Workplace Mental Health, 86% of those employees that were treated saw improvements in their daily work.

However, these therapy and medication can also be very time consuming and costly. In order to achieve a more efficient and cost effective solution, companies have found creative outlets to provide daily treatment. Enter the mental health app. Human Resources in general is becoming a more app-friendly department. The IAB-commissioned Harris Poll shows mobile phone users spend 88% of their time in applications and appreciate having apps that streamline services on their phones. There are countless apps for companies to choose from, but Mobylize and MoodNotes are two of the most innovative options.

Mobylize

Mobilyze is an employee-focused mobile application that tracks location, movement, sleeping patterns, and phone calls. It then compiles the data to analyze the user’s different moods and sends them messages as well as giving feedback on their responses to try and improve their symptoms. The app is user-specific which helps generate results faster and more accurately, and offers a more convenient and cost-effective option for companies trying to improve their employees’ well-being.

MoodNotes

Other apps, like MoodNotes, provide a more interactive user experience. Like Mobilyze, the app tracks different patterns that may be associated with mental health problems, but also focuses on creating a personal relationship with the user. MoodNotes encourages the user to answer more challenging questions about how they feel and why they may be feeling that way. As a result, the user is forced to think about possible suppressed problems and the reasons behind them. The app’s goal is to act like a mental health coach or friend, and strives to get users back to their healthy, happy selves.

These are only two examples of popular mental health apps that companies are starting to use. The companies that choose to implement these types of apps are continuing to see positive results. The market for mental health apps is growing, providing employees with many options to address specific issues and allowing room to find the best fit. As businesses focus on more ways to implement technology, mobile apps may be a solution to lowering the costs of mental health care, as well as looking out for the well-being of employees and fostering a well-functioning, healthy business environment.

 

By Nicole Federico

Employee Wellness Programs are a key factor in employee engagement and overall company success in today’s business world. Wellness programs are consistently evolving and changing as employee demands shift. Companies are constantly looking for new ways to engage and encourage their employees, preferably at a lower cost. Below are some effective and cost-efficient ways to enhance your employee wellness programs, leaving your employees happier and more excited about work!

  1. Walk and Talk Meetings

Walk and Talk meetings are becoming a popular new way that companies can encourage employee fitness in the workplace. The average American employee spends the vast majority of the day sitting at the desk, and studies show that 86% of them hate it. The walk and talk meetings provide a way to get up and move around, while still being productive with the work that needs to be accomplished. In addition, walking boosts creativity and new environments produce fresh ideas. A Stanford study recently found that, “walking has a very specific benefit – the improvement of creativity.” So, next time you’re looking for a boost of creativity and activity in your schedule, consider taking your meeting for a walk.

  1. Fit Bit Challenges

Fit Bits are one of the most popular fitness trackers on the market. Several employees already have personal Fit Bits so bringing them into the workplace is an easy transition. For those that do not, many companies are buying them in large bundles for resale at discounted rates to their employees. Companies are finding innovative ways to incorporate Fit Bits into their wellness programs to keep employees active while also fostering teamwork. According to Fit Bit, by holding challenges and competitions using the Fit Bit, companies create group health that is easily trackable. More specifically, “Fit Bit users with one or more friends are 27% more active.” The concept of using the Fit Bit with other employees builds better relationships as well as holds them accountable for being active.

The challenges are a simple and cost efficient way to improve overall health and many companies have had great success through using the Fit Bit. For example, The Cleveland Cavaliers’ employees did a Fit Bit walking challenge in which they logged their daily activities and food. In order to entice workers to take part, they held competitions with prizes that spiked employee participation and overall health and happiness. The result of the challenge- “employees reached their personal fitness and weight loss goals, conference room meetings became walking meetings, and elevator trips were nixed in favor of the stairs. By the time their challenge came to a close, participants had recorded a cumulative 76.6 million steps—more than 38,000 miles—and created new healthy habits to take into the future.” Your company could be the next to see amazing FitBit challenge results!

  1. Healthy Vending Machines

In order to achieve a healthy lifestyle, the combination of exercise and healthy eating is essential. For busy employees, grabbing a quick snack is a typical daily routine, however these quick grabs are often unhealthy. Keeping healthy vending machines, or stocking the fridge with fruits and vegetables allows workers to snag a healthy snack that will aid overall health and also satisfy mid-day hunger cravings. In addition, eating healthy has many cognitive benefits that can transfer into employees’ work. For example, typical benefits that arise from healthy eating are an increase in concentration and alertness, generating better work from each of your employees.

  1. Competitions

Competitions can easily be tailored to fit your company’s culture! One of the most popular workplace competitions is the Biggest Loser challenge. In this type of challenge, the employee or team of employees sets a weight loss goal. The group that loses the most weight by the end of the allotted competition time wins! Another popular challenge is signing up for local 5Ks or half marathons and running the race with your co-workers. You can encourage employees to partake in fitness challenges by having prizes or monetary rewards. Aside from the obvious health results, challenges like these encourage teamwork and healthy competition inside the workplace. Above all else, it’s important to get creative with whichever competition you choose!

The key to a successful wellness program is to make it personal to what your employees enjoy and will want to participate in. These are just a few ways that you can find success in employee wellness throughout your company. So, boost your overall employee morale and efficiency by implementing these simple yet cost efficient wellness ideas in your daily routines!

 

Contributed by Nicole Federico

Adopting best practices for wellness program designs are important in successfully investing in a workplace environment focused on well-being. Finding the right partners, tools, and interventions, and creating an incentive design that hits the sweet spot to motivate employees to participate are all essential. Many organizations fall short and wellness programs often stall when employees do not understand the program. Whether they question an organization’s intent in offering a wellness program, the program components are too overwhelming or not communicated well, or employees simply do not understand how programs affect them, educating employees on wellness program options is crucial to a program’s success.

Culture

Organizations implement wellness programs for many reasons. Some do so in an effort to contain rising health care costs, while others do so to enhance culture. The first step in educating employees about wellness programs is sharing the business objective of the organization’s wellness initiatives. Senior management should share the reasoning behind investing in a wellness program and how it is important to the way the company operates. This can be demonstrated by tying it to an existing mission statement or company credo that emphasizes the value of the people of the organization or through a new wellness program brand that complements key aspects of the business. When a wellness program is launched without establishing how it fits into the bigger picture of the organization, it may seem like the company is penalizing employees by setting additional requirements to meet in order to get health insurance premiums at a certain rate. Sharing the intent of wellness programs can help employees better understand why certain program requirements are in place and empower them to be closely connected to an organization’s vision. Seeing company leaders engaged in wellness programs themselves can be one of the most powerful ways to get employees on board or create interest in the available program options.

Communication

Once an organization has announced its wellness initiative, an effective communication strategy must be developed to get the program information to employees. Drawing out a year-long communication plan can help administrators easily map out key dates and timeframes for programs. Establishing an online platform (whether it be an internal intranet page or a payroll, benefit, or wellness dashboard) is helpful so that employees can access information and program requirements on demand. Determining effective outreach based on organization dynamics is essential. Typically, an organization should rely on a combination of electronic communication and face-to-face meetings (depending on the kind of technology employees can access). As influential as consistent messaging from senior management can be, middle managers and supervisors may play an even larger role in how employees get information. Communicating wellness program updates in their regular team meetings can build momentum and routine for employees. Creating a network of wellness champions (employees throughout the organization that embrace wellness) can be a fantastic way to educate employees on programs. Program administrators can send regular wellness program updates to the wellness champions to spread among their employee groups. Creating regular education sessions can be helpful as well. Most companies will offer an overview of wellness programs at open enrollment or new hire orientation. The volume of information during these meetings can be overwhelming, so follow-up wellness program orientation opportunities and health benefit educational sessions should be offered throughout the year to help employees navigate the benefits available to them and be smart consumers of healthcare.

Impact

Sharing the potential impact of wellness programs is another powerful educational tool from a financial and health perspective. Demonstrating how much money is available in rewards for someone that fully engages in wellness compared to someone who does not can motivate employees to take advantage of programs. Sharing the financial impact of the entire organization focusing on wellness in terms of proactively working to contain long-term healthcare costs can help employees understand how they can directly influence future premiums. Offering small incentive opportunities for employees to submit success stories or health achievements can be a fun way to share how an organization’s wellness program has improved the health and well-being of employees. It can be very inspiring for employees to see their peers having success and embracing company programs. At the end of the day, employees that fully understand the potential impact of wellness programs and how to navigate their medical coverage feel better about their benefits and valued by their employers.

Be sure to read our recent blog on how small businesses can implement effective wellness programs. For additional trends among wellness programs, download In UBA’s new whitepaper: “Wellness Programs — Good for You & Good for Your Organization”.

To understand legal requirements for wellness programs, request UBA’s ACA Advisor, “Understanding Wellness Programs and Their Legal Requirements,” which reviews the five most critical questions that wellness program sponsors should ask and work through to determine the obligations of their wellness program under the ACA, HIPAA, ADA, GINA, and ERISA, as well as considerations for wellness programs that involve tobacco use in any way.

For the latest statistics from the UBA survey examining wellness program design among 19,557 health plans and 11,524 employers, pre-order UBA’s 2016 Health Plan Survey Executive Summary which will be available to the public in late September.

Originally published by www.ubabenefits.com

Companies like Google®, L.L. Bean®, and Zappos.com® have the ability to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on wellness programs for their employees. They can build state-of-the-art gym facilities, walking trails around the corporate campus, and offer any number of wellness services to benefit their workers, as well as monetary incentives. For the average employer and small business owners, this type of programming is nearly impossible. Small business owners may not have money to spend on these types of wellness programs, but they do recognize the value of investing in the health and wellbeing for their employees. These are shared strategies you can use to offer your employees opportunities to reduce health risks, control health care costs, and improve productivity and overall wellbeing.

Programming

For small business owners looking to offer “voluntary” wellness programs on a limited budget, look no further than your employee benefits packages. Most employees do not utilize their benefits to their full potential. Motivating and incentivizing your employees to use the benefits that are already provided can be a great way to launch a wellness program. Insurance carriers provide preventive screening schedules that can be used to guide your employees to seek regular medical check-ups at no cost to them. Utilizing the schedule can help employees take control of their health and potentially prevent catastrophic health events before they occur.

Several carriers offer great discount programs on top national brands to make living a healthy lifestyle more fun and affordable. Discounts include gym memberships, weight loss programs, tobacco cessation resources, gym apparel and equipment, and other fitness and nutrition resources.

Utilizing local and national resources is also a great way to educate employees on good, healthy behaviors at a limited cost. Organizations such as the American Heart Association and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control offer free, online education resources and information tool kits. Local organizations may have access to grants that can help offset the costs of tobacco cessation and nutrition programming. Local chapters may even offer onsite lunch and learns and be willing to participate in your company health fair.

For additional trends among wellness programs, download In UBA’s new whitepaper: “Wellness Programs — Good for You & Good for Your Organization.

Incentives

Small business owners do not have to offer large cash prizes in order to motivate employees to participate in the wellness programming. Setting up challenges where individuals or teams compete to earn a top prize can be a great way to utilize the natural competitive side of your employees while offering a supportive culture.

To understand legal requirements for wellness programs, particularly as it relates to incentives, request UBA’s ACA Advisor, “Understanding Wellness Programs and Their Legal Requirements,” which reviews the five most critical questions that wellness program sponsors should ask and work through to determine the obligations of their wellness program under the ACA, HIPAA, ADA, GINA, and ERISA, as well as considerations for wellness programs that involve tobacco use in any way.

Sample Programming

Begin by offering a thoughtfully created program that recognizes the importance of the work-life balance. For example, create a “passport” to health and wellbeing. We suggest including a few of the following activities:

  • Get an annual physical, dental, and vision exam
  • Take advantage of preventative cancer screenings (skin, colonoscopy, mammogram, etc.)
  • Utilize the Employee Assistance Program (EAP)
  • Get a flu shot
  • Complete a biometric screening
  • Complete online health coaching on a health topic through the insurance carrier portal
  • Attend a company lunch and learn on a health related topic
  • Participate in an office health challenge (step, weight loss, etc.)
  • Volunteer in your community
  • Participate in a community walk, run, bike event

Employees can have their passport stamped as they visit with providers and participate in organizational events. Wellness Committees have found success in offering raffle tickets for each completed item and offering drawings for wellness-related prizes at a company picnic or end of year holiday party. Additionally, a point value can be used and participants can earn points to be in a drawing for achieving gold, silver or bronze status.

To ensure your program produces real culture change over time, consult these six steps to a successful, sustainable workplace program.

Summary

Small business owners do not have to break the bank to offer their employees great wellness programs. Take a look at what is offered through your current benefits and educate your employees on how to take full advantage of what they offer. Do not be afraid to reach out to local organizations to see what kind of free or low-cost programming is available.

For the latest statistics from the UBA survey examining wellness program design among 19,557 health plans and 11,524 employers, pre-order UBA’s 2016 Health Plan Survey Executive Summary which will be available to the public in late September.

Originally published by www.ubabenefits.com

Many wellness programs start off with good intentions, offer some education and fun, but even after several years, have failed to meet their original goals or produce real culture change. We recently reviewed the first three steps to a successful, sustainable workplace program. Here we conclude with steps four through six for setting up a successful program.

4.  Find internal wellness champions; develop and embrace an organizational vision for wellbeing.

Now that the stars are beginning to align, management is invested in the program, the partners, tools, and resources needed have been established, you can now begin to look internally at where to go next. Most wellness vendors, and consultants like me, recommend setting up a committee to champion the program. Smaller organizations might have one or two people, while a larger organization may have a larger group. To obtain a well-rounded perspective, the committee should represent the office as a whole, not just certain pieces. Different divisions, remote employees, various departments, or other organizational demographics should all be represented. A successful program needs a group of people who are in charge of equal parts of the organization and who are actively engaged in effective change. These champions are the ones the employees come to rely on for information; they are the wellness cheerleaders of your organizations, walking the talk! Members can be appointed or volunteer, but I highly recommend setting guidelines and expectations for committee members up front.

Create a vision within the committee or team and gain insight on what the employees want in a program. What is the goal and purpose of having a health and wellness program? This might seem basic, but it is a necessary question. What do you want to accomplish? Is your organization looking to drive down the cost of claims? Although cost containment may be reason to look at wellness, it should not be your only goal. Successful groups implement programs to improve the lives of employees and their families. Your vision does not have to be formal, but the purpose of the program and why it is being put in place should be communicated. As the employer, sit down and ask the employees what they want in a wellness program. You would be surprised at the number of employers I have worked with that have not asked their employees anything. Engagement with employees is vital to the success of the program; build your vision and plan with their help.

5.  Set health goals and tailor program elements and incentives to meet them.

With the aggregate data in hand, it is time to define a program outline and set goals. It is easy to get ahead of yourself when beginning this program by creating unrealistic goals that are too demanding of employees. You will not have 100 percent participation in your first year. Strategize and establish measurable goals with your committee, wellness vendor, and benefits consultant. Setting realistic expectations is crucial for program success.

Find the balance between offering enough activities to keep employees engaged, but not overwhelming them with so many activities that it becomes taxing. Do not be afraid to want to see your program succeed! Look ahead and create a six- to 12-month program. I prefer to create a 10-month program with some type of monthly healthy activity. Select programs and topics that relate directly back to the aggregate data you collected. For example, if you have data that says less than five percent of your population uses tobacco, then you do not need to implement a 12-week tobacco cessation program. Instead, assist that five percent by providing some free education and resources for support, then focus on where your organization might need more attention.

Find programs that support employees on their overall health journey. Ask questions to identify programs that will encourage and influence behavior changes. For most organizations, it is common to offer programming geared to employees that are pre-hypertensive or hypertensive, overweight, obese, have high cholesterol, or employees experiencing high stress and anxiety. Rely on your benefits consultant or wellness vendor to make the best practice recommendations for creating behavior changes related to these risk areas. You may be able to use your existing Employee Assistance Program (EAP) and market it more heavily. In more extreme cases, you may need to utilize health coaches available with your wellness vendor or through your disease management program.

Think of setting goals in terms of the percentage of participation would you like to see in the first, second, third, and future years. For example, you may want to see utilization of medical preventive care benefits increase from 57 to 75 percent, or see employee engagement increase from one activity to the next. Setting two to five measurable goals early on, then evaluating those goals monthly, provides valuable insight into the program’s success. Make goals and programming obtainable; create an atmosphere of success for your employees.

Do not forget to use incentives. What will get your population “moving?” The discussion of whether intrinsic or extrinsic incentives are more effective is a lengthy one and of much debate these days.

From internal case studies, it is my expert opinion that employers willing to link their wellness program incentives to their benefit plan design in the form of reduced medical premiums, or making contributions to an employee’s health savings account or flexible spending account, see the greatest level of participation and overall behavior change in their employees. Of course, this does not occur overnight, but rather over time in coordination with your benefits consultant. This becomes a way of creating a cost-effective and consumer-driven healthcare plan that uses incentives to encourage your employees to make high-value decisions. A testimonial from one of our client’s employees says it all when it comes to intrinsic vs. extrinsic incentives.

“In short, I came for the savings, I stayed for my health. The first year I only participated for cost savings thinking, ‘Who would really like this?’ The following year I signed up for a health coach. Now I’m living healthier, eating better, exercising more, and more importantly, feeling better. Now I think, ‘Who wouldn’t really like this’?”

6. Kick it off, communicate and evaluate.

Roll out your program! Hold a kick-off party for the employees in the office, and conduct a webinar for the employees who work off-site. Provide employees with an overview of the program so they understand why your organization has created a wellness program, what employees should expect from their program, and the vision of the program.

Make sure to communicate about the program weekly, and use all forms of communication. Ask your employees what frequency of emails they prefer. Many of our clients, including my own company, like to have two emails a week to remind them of what is going on. Use social media, provide videos, webinars, etc. The more buzz that can be created around the program the better. Keep employees engaged and excited when it comes to your program, but do not overwhelm them with communication. Send emails about the challenges keeping employees engaged and involved, on who is winning, and success of activities. Create an environment of success using these communication methods.

Last, evaluate the program realistically. What went well? What needs improvement moving forward? Get real-time reporting from the vendor for participation. Review the program throughout the year and adjust as needed – no program is ever static. If you are not making changes each year, you are not being realistic. Improvements can always be made. Survey employees about things they learned, what they liked, and what they would do differently. You can use your vendor or benefits consultant to assist here. Make sure that the feedback from the employee surveys is taken into consideration when moving forward with the program. The more employees engage in the wellness program in its entirety, the more success you will have moving forward.

Originally published by www.ubabenefits.com

 

Many of us have seen or heard about the various wellness programs referred to as “participation–based” programs. These participation-only programs continue to be the starting point for many organizations when they enter the world of workplace wellness. Participatory programs typically include a few individual and team-based activities, offer a level of electronic or onsite seminar education, and offer employees biometric screening and personal health risk assessments. Organizations may even award prizes, hold drawings, or offer giveaways.

These programs are typically created with the goals of promoting and encouraging healthier lifestyles for their employees and their families, reducing healthcare costs of the organization, or simply because ownership feels it is the right thing to do.

Fast forward a few years, and the same program is being offered. In most cases, employees have received some education and had fun, but the organization has yet to meet its original goals or experience a real culture change. Employees still seem to be leading unhealthy lifestyles, productivity and morale seem lower than ever, and healthcare claims continue to skyrocket. So why do you even have this wellness program?

In my eight years working as Wellness Program Manager for a mid-sized benefits consulting firm, I have been a part of and have seen the good, the bad, and the ugly of the programs. I have learned from mistakes made early on, and I value sharing those experiences with those I have the opportunity to consult with. I share firsthand examples from my own company’s program, as well as the experiences of my clients and other business partners. A program set up successfully – with the right support, tools, partners, and initial incentives – will absolutely reap the reward, and your organization should recognize a true cultural change.

These are the key factors that I believe contribute most to the success of a wellness program.

1. Secure senior management commitment and participation.

It is easy for business owners to say they want a wellness program, but it is a different story when they actually embrace the concept, support the process, and engage in the program themselves. Owners of organizations have come to me for help in implementing a wellness program. They assign one person to be in charge of the program, typically someone whose time is already limited, and for one reason or another the program stalls. If the top leadership of the organization is not supportive or engaged, it could take anywhere from six months to five years trying to get a sustainable wellness program off the ground. The program may not even take off at all.

I have seen these programs fizzle for many reasons, including a shift in business objectives, lack of established goals, or lack of participation or role-modeling from management or ownership. It can be recognized early whether a program is going to succeed by the support it has from its leaders. Think of a successful program much like the game “follow the leader.” Good leaders and owners should not only sponsor the program, but should also be actively engaged and supporting it, leading by example. When employees see owners and employers participating and supporting the program, they too will “follow the leader.” Once you have backing from the people who invoke change within your organization, laying the groundwork for the program will become a smoother process.

2.  Survey the organization and gather aggregate data to establish need and risk areas.

Once you have built the foundation, it is a good time to collect and gather data to determine need and evaluate aggregate risks in the organization. Of those organizations that created the participatory programs we discussed earlier, how many of them do you think actually asked their employees first what they wanted or needed in order to change unhealthy behaviors or lead a healthy lifestyle? What lifestyle-related claims is the organization experiencing that might be able to be controlled with interventions? What health risks exist within the organization? Organizations typically roll out the program before they gather the data, and then look back and wonder why their participation in their program was so low. Logically, it is because the employees didn’t want or need it or see the value.

When working with a benefits consulting firm, organizations ask for employees to be surveyed annually on their likes and dislikes in medical and dental coverage. It only makes sense that employees also be surveyed about their needs in a wellness program. The employee wellness survey may include questions about areas where they may want help, programs they would be willing to participate in, what would motivate them to engage in the program, and whether or not they are even looking to make any changes. Do not worry or be discouraged, as there is always five to ten percent of a population that is resistant to anything and will never participate regardless of what you provide.

Additional data is then obtained by analyzing your organization’s aggregate claims, if data is available. Along with claims data, organizations may also compile aggregate data through health screenings, biometrics, health and fitness diagnostics and assessments, blood work, and more.

3.  Utilize existing tools and resources, establish partnerships and seek guidance.

Many organizations may not be aware of the variety of wellness program tools and resources available to them. First, look to your benefits insurance consultant. Qualified, reputable benefit consulting firms now have credentialed wellness program managers or coordinators on staff to work alongside you and your team. Consultants can help navigate what is available to you from your insurance carrier or third party administrator and are likely tapped into local and national resources, wellness vendors, and other workplace wellness tools. One of the best parts of my role as a Wellness Program Manager is to share my passion for wellness with our clients and help them design a sustainable program. If you have a benefits consultant that is not providing this level of support or staff, it is worth inquiring.

Establish a partnership with a wellness vendor. This is one resource that is often overlooked because organizations try to do it themselves. Sustainable programs have vendors that can design programs based on need and risk, manage day-to-day program tasks, provide ongoing reporting, and recommend best practices for goal achievement.

Over the last few years, hundreds of new wellness vendors have entered the marketplace. I have worked with great vendors and vendors that I will not work with again. Employers should not settle for a “cookie cutter” program. Look for a partner that shares a similar view on wellness, one who will customize a program to satisfy your organization’s objectives. Ensure that you partner with a vendor that offers actual guidance and management of your program. CAUTION: Many vendors promote account management as a top service they provide, but few deliver. A great way to find the right vendor is through the partnerships your employee benefits consultant has established or from other business referrals and testimonials. When I place a client with a vendor, the most important thing I look for is the type of service my client will receive. Accept nothing but high quality and service.

Originally posted by www.ubabenefits.com

Employers with self-insured health plans are facing new Section 6055 regulations regarding the reporting of minimum essential coverage. The proposed regulation requires self-insured employers to report this information to the IRS on either Form 1095-B or in Part III of Form 1095-C, if the coverage is provided by an applicable large employer.

Section 6055 reporting identifies those individuals who are enrolled in minimum essential coverage. In order to accomplish this, the reporting forms require the inclusion of each individual’s Taxpayer Identification Number (TIN). For an individual, this is his or her Social Security number. While employers generally have the SSNs of their employees, they are less likely to have this information for an employee’s spouse or dependents. The proposed regulations include new guidance relating to the solicitation of TINs and the solicitation process employers should follow in order to avoid any penalties for filing without the proper TINs.

As long as “reasonable efforts” are made to secure the TINs of covered individuals, an employer is permitted to report a date of birth when no TIN has been provided. The proposed regulations lay out the following three-point process that should be used in order to meet the “reasonable efforts” guideline.

Reasonable efforts process chartIf individuals are already enrolled in coverage, July 29, 2016, is to be used as the initial solicitation date as long as a TIN was solicited as part of the application for coverage or at any other point before July 29, 2016. The second solicitation is then required within 75 days after July 29, 2016, which would be October 12, 2016.

Dan Bond, Principal at Compliancedashboard said, “Interestingly enough, these proposed regulations do not change the solicitation process for incorrect TINs, and there remains some confusion over what the IRS deems as a trigger for soliciting TINs in the situation that they are incorrect. They included a footnote in these proposed regulations that we presume is referencing the AIR [Affordable Care Act Information Returns] filing system that says just because an error message is received, that error message isn’t a notice for a penalty. Nor does the filer need to start the solicitation process in response to the error message. This statement leaves some question as to what triggers a solicitation need. We are watching to see what the IRS does with this.”

Although this process is part of a proposed rule, the IRS has stated that self-insured employers may rely on the process pending the release of a final rule.

For applicable large employers and self-funded employers of all sizes who have now completed the first round of required IRS reporting under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), request UBA’s ACA Advisor, “IRS Reporting, Now What?” for information on play or pay penalties, when the penalty is triggered, how the penalty will be assessed and documentation employers must have.

Originally posted by www.ubabenefits.com