Rising health care costs motivate employee wellness programs

Employer health care costs are predicted to rise almost 10% in 2008 and another 10% in 2009, according to a study released this week by PriceWaterhouseCoopers.

The increase is due to two main factors:

  • A hospital building boom, as hospitals replace facilities and add more private rooms and centers for outpatient treatment.
  • An increase in the expenses those with insurance are paying for those without. The federal government underfunds public insurance programs and the number of people with private insurance continues to decrease.

Along with health care costs, the number of underinsured Americans continues to grow. The number of American adults who had inadequate health insurance to cover their medical expenses rose 60% from 2003 to 2007. In the U.S., there are currently more than 25 million people underinsured.

In response to increasing costs, more employers are focusing more on employee wellness programs as an attempt to improve overall company health.

Studies have shown that walking programs are the most effective way to get employees to exercise without hurting productivity, according to a presentation at the American College of Sports Medicine.

Here are some tips to create your own wellness program that employees will want to stick with:

Create small, attainable exercise goals. Wellness programs with achievable fitness goals are more effective in helping sedentary adults start and stick with fitness programs than those with more challenging fitness goals, according to the American College of Sports Medicine presentation.

Give employees pedometers. Pedometers are a low-cost, simple and non-invasive way for people to increase their awareness of their daily activity and improve their overall fitness level. Those who were given pedometers in the research study said they plan to continue wearing the device after the study was over.

Get everyone involved, including upper management. Get the executives in the office involved in the program and encourage them to lead by example. When employees know that upper management is on board, they may be more inclined to participate.

Make it fun. Create T-shirts and hand out water bottles to everyone who gets involved. Post fliers promoting each walking event and create some buzz around the office.

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