- Healthier choices, reduced risk for chronic conditions, lower healthcare costs and usage, and fewer "unhealthy days" are the top results of Humana's Go365 wellness and reward program. The five-year study examined 10,000 participants in the company-wide program in the areas of employee health, healthcare costs and productivity.
- Of interest to employers, Humana says that "high-engaged members had lower healthcare cost increases than members with low or medium engagement" and that higher engagement is linked with fewer emergency room visits and hospital admissions. High-engaged members had 35% fewer emergency room visits and 30% fewer hospital admissions than low-engaged members by year five of the program. High-engaged members had 11% more preventive doctor's office visits than low-engaged members, as well as 55% fewer unhealthy days.
- Humana says lifestyle risk factors also decreased. Members ate healthier foods (those who ate five or more servings of fruits and vegetables daily increased by nearly 12%), exercised more (members who exercised for at least 150 minutes each week rose by 25%) and reduced stress and tobacco use (members were 2.3% more likely to be non-smokers). Clinical risk factors also decreased, researchers say. Biometric data showed "notable" improvement in lowering risk for heart disease, diabetes, kidney disease and other conditions over five years. Seven percent more men and nearly 3% more women had healthy ranges of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) good cholesterol.
The success of wellness programs remains difficult to measure, but research suggests the long-term benefits make them worthwhile for employers. Almost half of the nation's employers offer workplace health or wellness programs, according to researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's Gillings School of Global Public Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and RTI International. But, as Humana researchers noted, "the struggle to measure the success of wellness programs remains." Humana researchers concluded that organizations should expect to see value from a wellness program after three to five years.
Not all the evidence agrees with Humana's findings. A study by BJ's Wholesale Club, conducted over 18 months, concluded that workplace wellness programs provide few benefits. The BJ's analysts found that workplaces where the program was offered reported better health behaviors, such as regular exercise and active weight management, but no movement in clinical measures of health, healthcare spending, healthcare utilization or absenteeism. The BJ's researchers' findings align with a one-year examination of a wellness program offered by the University of Illinois.
Some data suggests that personalization and total well-being support might be the best way to design and implement the programs. Eighty percent of employees would be motivated to be more engaged if offered personalized wellness programs combined with a variety of non-cash incentives like paid time off, according to a Welltok report.
But even if such programs have little or no direct ROI, some say the boost they can provide to recruiting and retention efforts is likely worth the cost, especially in an employee-driven market. The majority of employees (70%) in a 2019 Alight study said wellness benefits were the reason they stayed at the job. Younger workers especially valued the programs across health categories.