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Employee wellness campaigns are heating up Posted: August 20th, 2012

By Barbara Marquand

Most companies offer health insurance premium discounts or other incentives to encourage employees and their families to take better care of themselves, according to a new survey from Aon Hewitt, a global human resource consulting business. And a growing number of companies are tying incentives to actual results.

Of almost 2,000 U.S employers, 84 percent offer workers rewards to complete health-risk questionnaires, and 64 percent offer incentives to participate in biometric screenings, such as blood pressure checks. About half, 51 percent, provide incentives to participate in wellness programs, the Aon Hewitt report says.

Of companies that offer incentives, about a quarter offer rewards for making progress toward meeting acceptable ranges for certain measures such as blood pressure, body mass index, blood sugar and cholesterol.

"Incentives solely tied to participation tend to become entitlement programs, with employees expecting to be rewarded without any sense of accountability for better health," said Jim Winkler, chief innovation officer for health and benefits at Aon Hewitt, in a press statement. "To truly impact employee behavior change, more and more organizations realize they need to closely tie rewards to outcomes and better results rather than just enrollment."

Bad habits have big impact on health insurance costs

Eight behaviors, such as poor diet, physical inactivity and smoking, drive the health care costs of the most common chronic conditions, such as diabetes and hypertension. Employers who can target and reduce the impact of three of those eight health risks can save up to $700 per employee per year, according to the Aon Hewitt report.

Much is at stake. The cost of providing medical insurance benefits has risen 40 percent in the last six years to an average of $8,000 per employee, Aon Hewitt says. Workers are paying more, too. Employee out-of-pocket and payroll costs for health care have increased 82 percent to an average of $5,000 per year per worker. The increase in health care costs has almost obliterated average income gains employees made in the same period.

Among the biggest challenges employers face is figuring out how to motivate employees to improve their health. Sixty-five percent of companies cited this as the top challenge as they wrestle with whether and how to continue to offer health insurance benefits. Government compliance and regulation came in as the second top challenge, cited by 35 percent of employers.