Making the Health-Wealth Connection in Financial Wellness Programs

Financial wellness programs are focused on helping employees spend less, saving more wisely, and learning about different financial opportunities available to them. Possibly the most important goal included in these programs is encouraging employees to save toward goals such as retirement, children’s education, and emergencies.

But few programs are designed to help employees make the health-wealth connection, the notion that a healthy lifestyle – spending a few days a week going for a walk, taking medication as prescribed, and other healthy behaviors – can also lead to financial wellness.

A new study published in JAMA found, for instance, that BJ’s Wholesale Club workers participating in the company’s wellness programs self-reported healthier behavior, such as exercising more or managing their weight better than those not enrolled.

However, because “traditional, broad-based programs like the one analyzed by (the researchers) may lack the necessary intensity, duration, and focus on particular employee segments to generate significant effects over a short time horizon” like the one included in the study – the report showed the efforts did not result in differences in health measures, such as improved blood sugar or glucose levels; how much employers spent on health care; or how often employees missed work, their job performance, or how long they stuck around in their jobs.

In other words, it is important, when assessing wellness programs, to consider “more targeted approaches” that focus on specific cohorts of workers with higher risks for “health behaviors [that] may yield larger health and economic benefits,” the editorial suggested.

What’s more, there’s widespread interest in wellness programs on the part of employers. The Kaiser Family Foundation’s (KFF) annual survey of employers found that 53% of small firms and 82% of large firms offer a program in at least one of these areas: smoking cessation, weight management and behavioral or lifestyle change. According to the KFF survey, a few employers connect financial incentives to workers actually lowering risk factors, such as high blood pressure or cholesterol, or making concerted efforts to participate in programs that might help them do so over time.

Specifically, that KFF survey noted the following: firms continue to show considerable interest in programs that help workers identify health issues and manage chronic conditions, including health risk assessments, biometric screenings, and health promotion programs.

Even with large incentives and traditional chronic condition management features, is it enough to move the dial? Innovative programs like HealthyCapital can take these concepts to the next level – by incentivizing individuals with their own healthcare savings – amounting to hundreds of thousands of dollars at retirement.

Take Jessica, a 40-year old woman with high blood pressure. She can increase her life expectancy by two years and reduce her average annual healthcare costs from now until retirement by $4,800 just by reducing her salt intake, drinking in moderation, and gardening or going for a walk a few times a week. Furthermore, if she puts those savings into a retirement account, like her HSA or 401(k), that would amount to $222,000! Programs like HealthyCapital inform individuals about these opportunities and help support them along the path to making those small, simple, lifestyle changes.

Some of the features included with these types of programs include:

Health Risk Assessments. Among firms offering health benefits, 37% of small firms and 62% of large firms provide workers the opportunity to complete a health risk assessment. A health risk assessment includes questions about a person’s medical history, health status, and lifestyle.

Biometric Screenings. Among firms offering health benefits, 21% of small firms and 50% of large firms provide workers the opportunity to complete a biometric screening. A biometric screening is an in-person health examination that measures a person’s risk factors, such as body mass index (BMI), cholesterol, blood pressure, stress, and nutrition.

Health and Wellness Promotion Programs. Most firms offering health benefits utilize programs that help workers identify health risks and unhealthy behaviors, as well as improve their lifestyles. Fifty-three percent of small firms and 82% of large firms offer a program in at least one of these areas: smoking cessation; weight management; and behavioral or lifestyle coaching.

These features are certainly important to have in a comprehensive wellness program. However, in this day and age, they are not enough. Increasing constant engagement is important and an innovative approach like motivating people using significant savings is absolutely necessary to receive and maintain the attention of your employees.

What better incentive is there than this: workers can spend their money on prescription drugs, co-pays, deductibles, medical tests and the like or they can spend their money on the lifestyle they desire in retirement.

One last point: A recent report published by Corporate Insights suggests that successful financial wellness programs go beyond just education. And the top financial wellness programs provide tools that offer data visualizations, calls to action, dynamic modeling and follow-up options, according to Corporate Insight.