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Companies Push Wellness Programs

By CityTownInfo.com Staff
June 3, 2009

In an effort to reduce absenteeism and health care costs, many companies are investing in employee wellness programs.

The Fort Worth Star-Telegram in Texas reports that according to a survey conducted by Hewitt Associates, a human resources consultant, approximately 80 percent of companies are targeting employees' chronic health conditions--up from 51 percent from the previous year. It's no wonder, since a typical 10,000-employee company spends as much as $22 million on medical year just for its diabetic employees.

Employers say that promoting wellness programs ultimately cut costs in the long run. That is why investing in such programs makes sense even during a recession, said Kenneth R. Huber, senior vice president for the employee benefit group at PSA Insurance & Financial Services in Maryland, who was quoted in the Baltimore Sun [from an article originally located at http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/health/bal-bz.wellness27may27,0,3557524.story].

"People have tight budgets right now and find it difficult to set aside money," he said, "but now more than ever it is critical to get at these costs."

Domino Sugar, for example, spends about $20,000 to $25,000 annually on employee wellness, according to Mark Triche, their director of finance. The company brings in personal trainers, a doctor, a nutritionist and a healthy cooking demonstration. Employees who participate in health assessments receive reimbursements for an annual physical. The company also awarded a $300 prize in a weight loss competition.

"The company is behind it because we want a healthy workforce," explained Triche. "We know it's going to decrease costs."

The Star-Telegram notes that some legislators are even pushing for laws that will make it easier for companies to invest in such programs. Sen. John Cornyn of Texas is sponsoring the Workforce Health Improvement Program Act of 2009, which will allow employers to subsidize health club memberships up to $900 a year. And Sens. Toms Harkin of Iowa and Max Baucus of Montana are trying to grant tax credits for corporate wellness programs.

The Times-Standard in Eureka, California, suggests several wellness initiatives that companies have implemented. Included among them were reduced insurance premiums for employees who participate in health screenings, reduced insurance premiums for those who don't smoke, weight management programs, flu shots and employee walking, biking and hiking teams.

Overall, says the article, "implementing an employee wellness program may be one of the wisest business decisions you can make to reduce costs."

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