How Wellness Plans Can Help Workers’ Comp Carriers
July 15, 2015| By Diane Brown |
Region: North America
Gen Re’s Life & Health unit has published several compelling articles about Obesity for its client base. Those of us in Workers’ Comp at Gen Re quickly realized the articles had powerful learnings for us and our colleagues, particularly when coupling it with data about Wellness programs.
NCCI found that the medical costs for the morbidly obese are 6.8 times more than for a healthy weight individual. Undoubtedly, we’ve all imagined worst-case scenarios in which a 400 lb. employee has an injury. A minor injury can become a $500,000 claim.
A report by the National Business Group on Health, Addressing Obesity in the Workplace - The Role of Employers, provides examples of many employers successfully instituting Wellness programs.1
Employers and Workers’ Comp have hit snags with respect to Wellness programs over the past 18 months as a result of the EEOC challenges to stop some of these initiatives. However, the most recent EEOC-proposed amendment to the ADA regulations offers encouraging news: “The proposed rule clarifies that an employer may offer limited incentives up to a maximum of 30% of the total cost of employee-only coverage, whether in the form of a reward or penalty, to promote an employee’s participation in a wellness program that includes disability-related inquiries or biometric examinations as long as participation is voluntary.”2
Time will tell if this amendment stands as written and if this opening invites WC writers to participate in the dialogue.
In addition to the recommendations cited above and our own case experience, published research corroborates the positive effects of worksite wellness programs on employee behavior and health. A systematic review of the research literature found that workplace interventions promoting smoking cessation, such as counseling and nicotine replacement therapy, increased quit rates compared to the control group. Other studies showed improvements in physical activity, higher fruit and vegetable consumption, and lower fat intake as well as a reduction in body weight, cholesterol levels and blood pressure. In one case study, an employer determined that roughly half of wellness program participants reported positive changes in their walking and eating habits, and a quarter of participants reported getting closer to a healthy weight.3
Does your company think about how obesity might relate to your injured workers or other employees? Do you offer a Wellness program at your workplace? What are the pros/cons? We’re interested in hearing your thoughts. Perhaps insurers can gain perspective through their own employee wellness programs that can spark initiatives for their insureds.
The first step could be as simple as “Partner with the Community,” one of the recommendations to employers from The Health Advocate in its The Challenge of Obesity Checklist: Let’s think about how we can be part of an Employer’s Community when it introduces a Wellness program.4 We can draw from the abundance of information on how employees benefit from a Wellness program and share it - including how a Wellness program can often reduce the number of injuries, and expedite an injured worker’s recovery process and return-to-work.
For more on how obesity should be classified, I hope you haven’t missed the blog on Obesity by Pat Bailer, Life/Health Head of Claims.
2. Epstein Becker Green, April 17, 2015, EEOC Issues Proposed Wellness Program Amendments to ADA Regulations.
3. Workplace Wellness Programs Study