Incentives becoming the major push for wellness programs

March 3, 2016

by Richard Stolz, Employee Benefit News

April 23, 2015

In a sign of increasing employer urgency for results, the percentage of wellness program sponsors offering incentives for various forms of employee engagement with those efforts rose to 87% last year, up from 77% two years ago.

The trend is occurring at a time of greater regulatory focus on wellness program incentives. On April 20, the EEOC published detailed proposed regulations governing which wellness program incentives violate the Americans with Disabilities Act – and ways that most employers will be able to ensure that their wellness offerings can comply with the law.

As reported last week, the proposed EEOC rule removes confusion for employers who are complying with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act and the Affordable Care Act rules with respect to their wellness incentives, says Steve Wojcik, vice president, public policy with the National Business Group on Health. “If you’re complying with HIPAA and ACA rules you shouldn’t have any problems with the ADA,” he says.

Among large (3,000+ employees) employers, 90% offer incentives, according to the Sixth Annual Wellness in the Workplace Study conducted by the Optum Resource Center for Health & Well-being.

Optum’s study, based on responses of 545 employers that offer wellness programs of one kind or another. Most (60%) employers participating in the survey have at least 3,000 employees; 20% have between 100 and 2,999; and 20% have fewer than 100.

The study drilled into the details of program incentives, including some major highlights:

  • 64% of large employers offer incentives to employee family members.
  • The most prevalent (used by at least 79%) incentive-eligible wellness programs feature health biometric screenings, health or fitness challenges, health risk assessments and tobacco cessation.
  • Between half and two-thirds of employers also provide employee incentives for utilization of wellness coaching, a health & wellness website, health advocacy service, disease management programs, onsite fitness and medical centers, and healthy pregnancy programs.
  • The most prevalent incentive mechanisms include company contributions to HSAs, HRAs or HIAs (38%); health premium reductions (34%--jumping from 27% in the prior year survey); and gift cards (29%).
  • Only 16% of employers use cash incentives.
  • The average value of incentives is $414, although 24% offer incentives in the $500-$999 range, and 11% provide incentives worth $1,000 or more.
  • The largest proportion (57%) offer incentives for employees to complete a wellness program, while 47% incentive employees just to enroll in a program. Achievement of a specified health outcome is rewarded by 43% of employers (up from 37% in 2012).
  • Although employee physical health is the dominant (96%) focus of surveyed wellness programs, nearly two-thirds (64%) also target on behavioral/mental health. About one-third of employers also target financial (35%) and social health (31%).


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