Want to lower government health insurance costs? Try a wellness program.
The town of Hernando, Miss., saved $130,000 on its health insurance costs and negotiated lower premiums for its 115 employees by offering free screenings for high blood pressure and diabetes, free help for quitting smoking, and encouraging exercise, according to a Trust for America’s Health report released on Wednesday. The brief also highlighted state wellness initiatives in Indiana, Texas, and Minnesota and city initiatives in San Diego and Nashville.
“The employer community is increasingly looking at this as an economic, business imperative,” Andrew Webber, president and CEO of the National Business Coalition on Health, told a Hill briefing about the report on Tuesday. Chronic illnesses such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and cancer affect more than half the American population, according to Trust for America’s Health, putting a big drain on both government health care providers and employers who need to provide insurance.
Employers are finding that it’s cheaper to encourage employees to maintain a healthy weight, eat right, and encourage their kids to do the same, than to face a bill for medical crises related to preventable disease, Webber said. Healthy workers are also more productive.
Investing in wellness programs might be a tough pill for employers and lawmakers to swallow in a down economy. But modest outlays can have a big impact on a community’s long-term health costs, public-health experts and advocates argue.
“This is not about dictating behavior or telling people how to live—it’s about giving them options to live the best lives they can,” Trust for America’s Health Executive Director Jeff Levi said in a statement.
State and city level initiatives highlighted in the report include investments in bike lanes, sidewalks, and public parks; mandating healthier food in schools and physical education programs for children; tax incentives for businesses; and taxing cigarettes.