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Get Well Soon? Wellness Programs May Help Decrease Health Costs, Survey Shows

Employers who focus on providing preventive care rather than basic health care for immediate medical needs may end up with happier, more productive employees as well as a healthier bottom line, according to a study by the MetLife Mature Market Institute.

April 10, 2013

A new report by the MetLife Mature Market Institute suggests companies should bolster their health and wellness programs in an effort to reduce health care costs.

According to the report, 26.2 percent of all U.S. adults are sedentary, which MetLife defines as “not doing any physical activity outside of work for 30 days,” and about the same percentage of people are obese. Additionally, 9 percent of U.S. adults have diabetes and nearly 31 percent have high blood pressure.

Obesity increases expenditures by $1,723 per year per capita, according to the report. The study also notes that between 1999 and 2005, the average employer cost for health insurance increased from $1.60 to $2.59 per employee per hour.

The report cites research from both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the University of Michigan’s Health Management Research Center, which shows it is more cost effective for businesses to provide preventive-care services such as exams, screenings, health risk appraisals, behavioral coaching and health education rather than just traditional acute-care services.

The report notes populations that were exposed to increased health education experienced an improvement in overall health, especially in terms of health-related disabilities.

The study also suggests that employers provide telehealth and virtual medical care, which would allow employees constant access to their medical providers. Such services reduce the chance of admissions to hospitals and long-term-care facilities, according to the report.

"A lifetime perspective is essential to preserving the health of generations of Americans," said Sandra Timmermann, director of the MetLife Mature Market Institute, in a written statement. "For example, a decline in chronic disease would reduce the prevalence of disability and lead to declines in associated medical expenditures per year. In the workplace, employers can play an important role by promoting good health behaviors through wellness programs. This practice would also help employees become more engaged and productive in their jobs."

Max Mihelich is Workforce's associate editor. Comment below or email editors@workforce.com. Follow Mihelich on Twitter at @workforcemax.