Most companies see employer wellness programs as an added perk for employees instead of a strategic investment to help a business grow. A comprehensive wellness program typically offers plans to help employees quit smoking, manage medical conditions, lose weight, as well as preventative health screenings, gym memberships and other incentives to encourage participation. These programs foster healthy habits, happiness and an overall increase in productivity in the workplace.
The Affordable Care Act (ACA) creates new incentives such as cash rewards, premium discounts to promote wellness programs, and opportunities to support healthier workplaces.  For employers seeking to cut costs and stimulate growth, wellness programs classified as participatory medical plans can save payroll taxes payable by the employer, and offer the chance to increase supplemental coverage to the employee without reducing their take-home pay.
Despite these benefits, most employers, particularly small and mid-sized businesses, fail to see why they should implement wellness programs.
Wellness programs are a component of the ACA that not a lot of employers are taking advantage of. Though the fate of the ACA is still uncertain, any changes that do take place will not be implemented right away. Therefore, employers can still bring solid wellness to employees while rewarding the company. Employers can offer wellness programs to their employees at the expense of 12 payments per year (i.e. $600 per month), with the guarantee that they’ll be reimbursed by year’s end.
For many companies, health costs use up 50 percent or more of their corporate profits. In fact, the indirect costs of poor health, an absence from work and reduced work productivity can result in two or three times the amount of direct medical costs. Implementing and expanding employer wellness programs that invest in employees’ social, mental and physical health can save companies money on healthcare costs and reduce employee-related expenses.
There are tax advantages that come with maintaining a participatory medical plan. Certain programs reduce payroll tax obligations of the employee and employer. This enables employers to save money on taxes and gives employees extra money to spend on additional benefits. For instance, employers can save as much as $500 a year per employee on taxes while employees can have an average of $150 per month to spend on benefits, at zero net cost.
Not only do these programs provide an economic incentive, they can be tailored for each employee to get them moving, eating right and feeling better – putting choice back into the hands of employees. This also builds employee loyalty, leading to higher job satisfaction, work productivity, higher employee retention and lower absenteeism.
In order for a program to be qualified, it needs to engage employees. In addition to offering traditional incentives (gym memberships, access to nutritionists, etc.), businesses can boost employee engagement by encouraging them to be more proactive with their health. The ACA has devised standards for nondiscriminatory “health-contingent wellness programs,” which require individuals to meet a specific standard related to their health to obtain a reward. For instance, they could require that employees achieve a specific cholesterol level, go for genetic screenings at certain times of the year, or require those who smoke to decrease their use of tobacco in order to receive discounts on health insurance premiums. Engagement could even be as simple as asking employees to log in to the wellness platform, fill out a questionnaire and provide feedback online.
The Future of Wellness Programs: Security and Technology
For these elements to come together, an employer needs to have a tech solution that puts everything under one umbrella for easy access. There are different components to wellness programs, such as employee profiles that need to be filled out, tracked and managed by administrators. Instead of having employees fill out various forms and mailing them to providers, these features can be made available using an online platform that’s integrated within an employer’s payroll system, streamlining processes for a faster, more secure way to manage benefits.
Advancements in technology will eventually allow employees to sign up for personalized alerts on their mobile devices that can track their location and send notifications based on where they are. For instance, if an individual walks into a restaurant, he or she can receive an alert reminding them to avoid certain types of food. They can also receive notifications to let them know when a prescription is ready for pickup. And, they can be asked to participate in programs that are targeted specifically to their individual needs, whether they have a chronic medical condition like hypertension or diabetes, or if they’re overweight.
Taking advantage of ACA wellness programs can not only benefit employees, but save businesses money overall. When encouraging a healthy life for employees, everybody wins.