Employers turning to incentives to improve worker health

By BenefitsPro

By Kathryn Mayer

Employers are increasingly offering rewards to their employees to persuade them to make better decisions about their health, according to a new survey released Monday. But it isn’t all fun and games — a growing number of companies are also penalizing workers who do not make healthy choices.

Aon Hewitt’s survey of nearly 800 large and mid-size U.S. employers found that 83 percent offer incentives to employees for participating in programs that help them become more aware of their health status. Of those, 79 percent offer incentives in the form of rewards while 5 percent impose penalties. Sixteen percent offer a mix of both.

Almost two-thirds (64 percent) of employers offer monetary incentives of between $50 and $500, and nearly one in five (18 percent) offer monetary incentives of more than $500, the survey finds.

A growing number of employers are beginning to link incentives to sustainable actions and results, as opposed to having employees simply participate in a program.

More than half (56 percent) of the companies offering incentives require employees to actively participate in health programs, comply with medications or participate in activities like health coaching, while 24 percent offer incentives for progress toward or attainment of acceptable ranges for biometric measures such as blood pressure, body mass index, blood sugar and cholesterol. And more than two-thirds say they are considering this approach in the next three to five years.

Though some groups argue that programs that seek to penalize workers by charging them higher premiums or other surcharges, several large employers have adopted such policies. For example, CVS Caremark, the pharmacy and drug-benefit provider, recently said it would require its employees to report their weight, blood sugar and cholesterol or be forced to pay an annual penalty of $600.

“Employers recognize the first step in getting people on a path to good health is providing employees and their families with the opportunity to become informed and educated about their health risks and the modifiable behaviors that cause those risks,” says Jim Winkler, chief innovation officer for health and benefits at Aon Hewitt.

“HRQs and biometric screenings are the key tools in providing that important information and serve as the foundation that links behaviors to action. Motivating people to participate through the use of incentives is a best practice in the industry and these strategies will continue to be a critical part of employers’ health care strategies in the future,” Winkler says.

Originally published on BenefitsPro.com