Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Are you ready to commit to a wellness program? Take the test and find out.

One of the most important trends in employer-sponsored health insurance over the past few years is the growth of wellness programs. In fact, a number of recent surveys show that from 75% to 86% of all employers now offer wellness programs to help employees improve their health and lower future health care costs.

But offering programs and getting employees to use them are two different kettle of fish: A 2008 study by HR consultant Hewitt Associates found that few employees sign up for wellness programs.
     • A mere 4% of smokers took part in employer-sponsored smoking-cessation programs.
     • Only 5% of overweight employees signed up for weight-reduction programs.
     • Just 10% of employees with chronic ailments such as diabetes, asthma and heart disease took part in programs that address these problems.

There are many theories for why more people don’t sign up for wellness programs and experts have made many recommendations for pumping up that number.

But in my opinion these theories have very little to do the average person facing the very hard challenge of quitting cigarettes, losing weight or dealing with a chronic disease.

The simple truth is that if you’re not ready for a wellness program, it’s not going to work for you. Deciding to enroll in a wellness program is like anything else that represents a major life change. It’s tough to do. It’s tough to change your daily patterns, tough to get into a new routine, tough even to get yourself up for every session of the class.

So how do you know if you’re ready or not? Here’s a simple quiz we put together that will assess your readiness for a wellness program.

1. Do you have an illness or health issue for which you want to seek treatment or help?
Knowing you have an illness or health issue and resolving to do something about it is the first step in preparing for a wellness program.

2. Have you completed a health assessment?
Many companies and health plans that have wellness programs offer health assessments that typically can be done online or over the phone. The health assessment identifies any health issues that may require medical attention or a change in lifestyle. According to National Compensation Survey data, 55 percent of employees who take health assessments end up enrolling in wellness programs.

3. Have you tried to address your health issue by yourself and failed?
Many people who successfully lose weight, quit smoking or get their diabetes under control first had to endure a series of failed efforts on their own before considering getting help to tackle their health issue.

4. Is your health issue having a negative impact on your life?
It’s hard to change habits such as poor nutrition or smoking. But people often find the motivation to change when it’s taking a toll on their health and preventing them from doing the things they love to do.

5. Does your employer give you incentives for completing the program?
Positive feedback in the form of cash and other incentives can be a great motivator. For example, UnitedHealthcare offers employers a program called “Simply Engaged” that gives employees $75 for completing a health assessment, $25 for completing an online coaching program, and an additional $75 for completing a telephonic coaching program.

6. Does your company offer the program you need?
Don’t be surprised if they do. The programs that are most popular reflect the most pressing health challenges we face as a nation such as obesity, nutrition, smoking, diabetes, heart disease, and women’s health issues. A quick check with your human resources department or your company’s health benefits online tools can help you find the program that’s best for you.

Now you’ve taken the quiz and it’s time to score it. The more “yes” answers you gave, the more ready you are. If you answered “yes” to four or more questions, sign up right now!


  1. With all of the pronouncements coming from Washington about healthcare reform, it is easy to be waylaid by Gossamer eddies and side currents that pay little attention to one key area—health. There is plenty of discussion about insuring the uninsured, covering pre-existing conditions, and the rollout of a national healthcare model under the guise of healthcare information technology and facilitating the transport of electronic medical records.

    I think Sue’s words are spot-on and timely. Even if nobody is going to pay for it, with so many Americans participating in the healthcare conversation, an entire industry being re-engineered, and a trillion dollars to fund the transformation, should not there be more attention paid to wellness, to proactively making one responsible for one’s own health?

    Unfortunately, my perspective on this issue is shaped from having been there, done that, got the T-shirt—a heart attack at the age of forty-six. I’ve transformed myself from someone who took twenty-four years off between workouts to barely taking twenty-four hours off between workouts. I didn’t need an employer to sponsor a wellness program; all I needed was a ride in an ambulance.

    There may be a lot of different ways to get someone’s attention around wellness, around being responsible. Those who want to be well will have to make that decision for themselves. No company can do it for you, but companies certainly can be supportive of your efforts to help yourself.

    There has been a lot of conversation in the healthcare debate about what role the insurance companies have played in driving reform. Right or wrong, a number of stakeholders view payors as bad actors, as the raison d'ĂȘtre of reform.

    Wellness seems to offer payors a way to put on the white hat, to be proactive. Patients understand that they do not pay their providers for their healthcare. In the event patients need a provider, patients pay the insurers, cross their fingers, and hope the insurers agree to cover the expense.

    I am somewhat of a dilettante to the insurance side of the healthcare model, so I apologize in advance if I misspeak. Here’s my take as to the white hat opportunity, a way to take a leadership role in the matter of wellness. When you apply for insurance, you receive negative ratings for unhealthy and unsafe behaviors; smoking, health history, sky diving. However, if you run five days a week, maintain your weight, eat fish and refrain from drinking, you accrue no points for good behavior. In fact, you are rated as though you made no proactive attempts to manage your own health.

    Auto insurance companies raise your rates for certain bad behaviors, and they lower them for certain good behaviors. No accidents for two years—the rate goes down. No traffic violations—the rate goes down. Behavior modification. I am aware of it and I manage my behavior to get lower rates.

    Can a similar model work for health insurance? What would it take for payors to offer an incentive model for rewarding good behaviors?

  2. I appreciate both Sue's view and Paul's remarks here.

    The original "idea" of HIN was conceived from a point of view of evidence based medicine.

    EBM practice is what is described in the context of the Earth Charter as the Precautionary Principle, which happens to be the Hypocratic Oath.

    US society is having great difficulty integrating wellness into its approach to living and working. That is why I started my thought leadership system, WorkEcology(tm).

    There are many factors that relate to health that have to do with the way we work and live.

    The economics of health is hard to grasp if you look at it from the silos of health care, insurance and IT.

    Read my blog entry here on WeCareMetrics of Health http://bit.ly/BeyondGDP.

    This week in Time Magazine, my colleague Hazel Henderson thinking on Beyond the GDP was noted in this editorial, http://bit.ly/hazelonobsoletegdp.

    HIT and Health Practice in the US has failed to integrate into it an understanding of what is now called ecological economics and author scenarios of practice that are flexible and agile.

    One fit is not right for every person and with the growing range of systemic disorders and environmental factors (including stress) on health today, I welcome cooperating with any practitioner of health and wellness or technology thought leader on how to integrate a more horizontal view of health within a foundation of ecological economics and practice.