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Why Worksite Wellness Programs are Critical to Health Reform

Posted Jul 22 2012 10:30pm

There's no doubt about it. Health care reform is a hot topic these days. It has stirred up passionate feelings about increasing access to care and providing affordable health insurance. With all the talk about health care reform, are we missing something? It seems like the debate is more about health insurance instead of health care. What about improving the health of Americans? What about the role that employers can play in improving public health? 


Sure, there are some wellness provisions in the Affordable Care Act, including expanding employers' ability to reward employees who meet health status goals by participating in wellness programs and, in effect, to require employees who don't meet these goals to pay more for their employer-sponsored health coverage ( checkout timeline for full picture of what's changing and when ). But funding for wellness and prevention is really a drop in the bucket – there is still more to be done. 

To start, we have to reduce the burden of chronic diseases in this country. The crisis is clear:

  • 74% of all health care costs are confined to four chronic conditions (cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity)
  • 80% of cardiovascular disease is preventable
  • 80% diabetes is preventable
  • 60% of cancers preventable
  • 90% of obesity is preventable

The point is, if we truly want to control health care costs (and change our health care system), we have to control the big four chronic conditions. The good news is that although chronic diseases are among the most common and costly of all health problems, they are also among the most preventable. And with more than 140 million Americans in the labor force, worksite wellness programs have the potential to significantly impact the health of our nation.

What Employers Can Do

Every workplace can help promote employee health. First, they must put greater emphasis on efforts to keep healthy people healthy and move high-risk employees to low-risk. Preventive services that can help include immunizations , health screenings and health coaching . These services are designed to prevent disease or detect conditions that are not yet apparent to the individual, allowing for early treatment. Part of the reason why worksite wellness programs improve employees’ health outcomes is because of their ability to identify individuals who may be at high risk. 

Employers can help also employees learn how to prevent and better manage their chronic conditions by implementing a specific wellness program based on their population. Many chronic conditions can be managed with better nutrition and physical activity — so worksite wellness programs that focus on these two areas can have a bigh impact, not only to the employees' own health but also the employer's bottom line.

As an organization devoted to improving the health of employees, we believe strongly in wellness and prevention programs in the workplace and hope that recent trends in health reform will spark a renewed interest in worksite wellness programs. Then we can expect to see some real change. 


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