When you think about company employee benefits packages, you probably jump right to health insurance, paid time off, and maybe a retirement plan. Those traditional benefits form the foundation of a competitive benefits package, and they are certainly important. But for an employer that wants to go beyond basics, some choices can help you stand apart from your rivals and attract the best talent without breaking your budget. Count on your consultant at Taylor Benefits Insurance to keep you up to date on the newest trends in employee benefits planning.
While some health and insurance plans view coverage as a response to health needs, wellness takes a more preventive approach to improving and promoting health and fitness. Often, a wellness program includes premium discounts, cash rewards, and other incentives for participation. Examples of wellness goals include fitness, weight management, smoking cessation, health screenings, stress alleviation, and diabetes diagnosis and management.
These programs may include onsite or subsidized fitness centers, employer-sponsored and organized sports teams, access to convenient immunizations and other preventive services, and direct encouragement such as behavior modification assistance for smoking and stress. But the options can go much further, including proper lifting, cancer screenings, AIDS awareness, nutrition guidance, and more.
Physical wellness is a big part of the picture but not the only component. Companies seeking to provide comprehensive support for their staff’s well-being may consider adding non-traditional employee benefits like eldercare, childcare, parenting support, and (increasingly) financial wellness. These additional points of focus acknowledge that the employer also gains by contributing to the overall well-being of the workforce.
Recent research conducted by Wellable, a holistic wellness provider that supports employers in their pursuit of well-being programs, indicates that while employers continue to invest in wellness efforts, they are evolving their offerings. The goal is to maximize the choices that employees want and use and respond to environmental concerns (like physical space.) For example, Wellable reports a decrease in employers opting to include gym reimbursements and onsite food availability in their 2022 plans, countered by increased mental health and mindfulness/meditation offerings. In addition, the number of programs that incorporate telemedicine and stress management also shot up, while biometric screening is waning.
Bigger employers are more likely to offer wellness plans, but that’s not a requirement. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, 81 percent of large employers (having over 200 workers) offered some kind of wellness program. This percentage has continued to rise since Johnson & Johnson publicly launched the first recognized initiative in 1979, called “Live for Life.” J&J was an even earlier adopter of “wellness” for employees, with company facilities in the late 19th century including a health center, fitness facility, swimming pool, and basketball court. The Live for Life program focused on education and behavior modification, including nutrition and stress management topics. Johnson & Johnson sponsored safe driving courses for their staff and led the way among employers in reducing tobacco use and expanding parental leave and fertility support.
The results make financial sense to J&J: according to the company, they have lower costs on average than other similar organizations. But, more importantly, they report that their workforce has consistently better health statistics (measured by benchmarks like obesity and triglyceride levels) than the national average.
Small businesses have been slower to adopt wellness programs, but research shows that employees enthusiastically respond when they have the opportunity to participate. As a result, consultants like Taylor Benefits report more inquiries from clients seeking guidance on boosting their offerings in this area. We can help you crunch the numbers and evaluate the costs and benefits for your organization.
The ACA (Affordable Care Act) amended HIPAA (the acronym for the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) to allow employers to encourage employees to participate in wellness programs by offering incentives that would reduce their health insurance premiums. These incentives can be up to fifty percent of the single-coverage cost for employees who participate in smoking cessation programs. On the other hand, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) stipulate that if a wellness program includes medical questions and exams, it must be voluntary.
That apparent conflict (whether valuable incentives like discounts or disincentives like penalties) actually coerce employees into disclosing private health information has been hotly contested for the last six years. The EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) issued regulations in 2016 that allowed incentives, but the district court overturned the rules. In 2021 the EEOC tried again, but the administration withdrew the proposed regulations before final approval.
Adding to the confusion over what incentives may be admissible, Yale University recently settled a lawsuit from two employee unions regarding its fees for opting out of the wellness program. The lack of foundation may at least temporarily discourage companies from offering substantial incentives for participation in these plans.
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