A Smart Private Sector Solution: Wellness Programs Create a Healthy Workforce and Save Money


By Elizabeth Parker

As small business owners continue to deal with the economic downturn and soaring health care costs, there’s growing interest in workplace prevention and wellness programs to improve the health of employees, which lower costs and ensure a productive workforce.

Strategic investments in proven prevention programs — rather than treating people after they’re sick — can have a visible impact in dollars, workforce productivity and quality of life.

With 61 percent of adults considered overweight or obese and at risk for diabetes, heart disease and a host of other chronic illnesses and injuries, businesses face the risk of footing the costs born of an unhealthy workforce.

It is estimated that by 2050, California could add an estimated $908 billion to economic output through disease prevention and management programs. 

Workplace wellness programs have become a smart private sector investment to not just curb health care costs but improve employee morale.  

There’s a lot more to health than just annual visits to the doctor and insurance premiums. Health happens during our daily lives – at home, in neighborhoods and communities, at work – and it happens more easily and frequently with active lifestyles and smart food and exercise choices.

Prevention and savings go hand in hand. For instance, every dollar spent on comprehensive year-round prevention programs yields three times that amount in savings.

Employers with workplace wellness programs see, on average, a 27 percent reduction in sick leave absenteeism, a 26 percent reduction in health costs and a 32 percent decrease in workers’ compensation and disability claims, according to the American Journal of Health Promotion.

Large companies are encouraging participation in wellness programs. For example, American Express is giving employees $200 toward health care expenses for walking 2 1/2 miles a day. Blue Shield of California kicked off a prevention program called the “Blue Groove” plan, offering up to a $500 reduction in health care premiums for employees who answered questions about their health and underwent regular preventative health screenings.

For small businesses looking to establish a health and wellness program, there are plenty of resources to help.

Making grant funding available for workplace wellness programs is one of the many ways the federal health care law — the Affordable Care Act — is helping transform the nation’s health care system from treatment-based to prevention-based care.

The Health Law Guide for Business website  is a unique business-specific, information hub that educates the business community on the law, which takes effect in 2014, including information on workplace wellness grants.

This site was created by business people who understand what the new law means for business owners: collaborative effort of The California Endowment with The Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce, Bay Area Council, California Small Business Development Center, California Hispanic Chambers of Commerce, Pacific Business Group on Health, Silicon Valley Leadership Group, Small Business Majority and Small Business California. 

As a small business owner with 14 full-time employees, providing health insurance is very important to retaining talent and keeping employees healthy and happy. The Affordable Care Act will help me do that.

The law will end the current system of employers who provide insurance paying higher premiums to subsidize health care costs for the uninsured.

Many of my competitors have dropped insurance for their workers. But by requiring every business to provide coverage, the new law creates a level playing field for everyone and allows a greater focus on wellness.

California is not immune from the national growth of preventable health issues, like high blood pressure and diabetes, whose treatment is burdensome and costly.  Businesses don’t have to stand-by while employees get illnesses that will require a lot of time and money to address.  Early investment in employee health ensures a healthy workforce and that generates a healthy amount of savings to help grow businesses.  

Parker is the owner of Orange County-based Tulsa Rib Company.




Filed under: Opinionation

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