Wellness Programs Combat Rising Health-Care Costs

Helping employees with their health improves morale and lowers CU costs.

April 30, 2012

Health and wellness programs are on the rise at professional organizations thanks to the many benefits they offer both employees and employers.

Health-care costs are increasing at a shocking rate: They’re expected to rise at twice the rate of inflation in 2012.

Companies that haven’t budgeted for increased costs are looking for ways to somehow limit the costs they’re likely to incur.

More organizations are turning to health and wellness programs as one solution. These programs offer a number of benefits, according to "Credit Union Wellness Programs: Good Health is Good Business," a CUNA Human Resources/Training & Development Council white paper.

Most obviously, healthier employees mean lower health-care costs.

But that’s not all. Healthier employees tend to be happier, more productive, and more likely to perform better. This means operating costs will likely decrease too.

Plus, if employees help their families improve their health, it further decreases costs.

And as an added bonus, offering high-quality programs can enhance your credit union’s image in the community and as an employer.

Implementing a program

When designing a wellness program, the white paper advises credit unions to take these steps:

1. Evaluate your staff’s health. Using employee health assessments and biometric screenings you can determine your credit union’s primary health risks and needs.

Subscribe to Credit Union MagazineThis will help you develop your program’s strategy, and will provide data you can use as a reference point when determining future improvements.

2. Keep in mind your credit union is unique. Use the information you gained from initial evaluations, as well as demographic information, when designing your program. 

“Decisions on program types should take into consideration the health risks present in the population along with other factors such as organizational structure and culture, and demographics,” says Hina Vaidya, vice president of business and product development at Summit Health Inc., Novi, Mich.

“Also, simple but critical considerations will be necessary at the outset, such as establishing the best method for the delivery of programs, the type of communications that will be effective and so on,” she adds.

3. Work closely with employees from the outset. Knowing what health initiatives staff consider important and how employees see wellness efforts as a benefit can help determine your program’s strategy. 

NEXT: Factors to consider



While wellness program strategies can take a variety of forms, consider:

• Timing. You can make incentives available consistently across the year to keep your program’s momentum going and to optimize engagement.

Consider the value of the incentive for each person, each year; then you can divide it up for different activities.

• All employees. Don’t focus on only unhealthy employees or those with health risks. Instead, design incentive programs for all employees, and reward all levels of health, such as staying healthy, getting health, and managing a condition.

• Simplicity. Make your strategy and communications simple and easy. Assume the learning curve for participation is about five minutes.

• Your demographic. Target your incentives to your employees. What incentive is in line with your credit union’s culture, type of business, or other factors?

Costs continue to rise

Providing health-care benefits to employees is fast becoming more and more expensive. In 2012, these costs are expected to increase at twice the rate of inflation.

Health-benefit costs increased due to a few unique factors. Today dependent coverage eligibility extends to children up to age 26, as a result of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA).

Another PPACA mandate requires that companies extend coverage to those working over 30 hours per week, and that your plan covers at least 60% of covered services.

Rising costs as a whole are on the minds of businesses. The top two challenges faced last year included cost issues.

Health-care costs proved to be a significant concern, too, in the 2011 Top Five Total Rewards Priorities Survey by Deloitte and the International Society of Certified Employee Benefit Specialists.

The survey revealed the highest five priorities are:

  1. The cost of providing health-care benefits to active employees;
  2. Employees’ willingness to pay for a higher portion of benefit plan coverage and to manage their own reward budgets; 
  3. Reward programs’ ability to attract, motivate, and keep talented employees on staff; 
  4. Compliance with regulations set down by current and future health reform legislation; and
  5. Aligning total rewards strategy with the organization’s overall business strategy and brand.

In short, organizations are searching for ways to temper these increases. Many haven’t budgeted for increases in health-care costs—or for increases in coverage mandated by the 2014 PPACA to come, reports CUNA’s 2012-2013 Credit Union Environmental Scan.

Parts of PPACA are facing regulatory review, and may never take effect. But still, employers must act to find ways to address increased costs and regulation.

One way they’re doing so is by implementing health and wellness programs in their organizations, designed to spur on healthy living for employees and simultaneously reduce health-care costs. And this method is certainly seeing success.

"Credit Union Wellness Programs" is available free to members of the CUNA Human Resource/Training & Development Council; $50 for nonmembers. Click here for more information.

While wellness program strategies can take a variety of forms, consider:

·         Timing. You can make incentives available consistently across the year to keep your program’s momentum going and to optimize engagement. Consider the value of the incentive for each person, each year; then you can divide it up for different activities.

·         All employees. Don’t focus on only unhealthy employees or those with health risks. Instead, design incentive programs for all employees, and reward all levels of health, such as staying healthy, getting health, and managing a condition.

·         Simplicity. Make your strategy and communications simple and easy. Assume the learning curve for participation is about five minutes.

·         Your demographic. Target your incentives to your employees. What incentive is in line with your credit union’s culture, type of business, or other factors?

For more information on the white paper, visit cunacouncils.org.