Insurance companies offer wellness programs for many of the same reasons as other companies do. Of course, the prevailing reason is lower costs to the insurance company. It's estimated that nearly 80 percent of all health insurance costs are a result of those with chronic conditions [source: The Wellness Councils of America]. Many of these conditions are preventable with proper nutrition, exercise, weight loss and smoking cessation programs.
While big companies can afford to offer expensive workplace wellness programs, many smaller businesses simply can't. That's where health insurance companies come in. They can offer wellness resources such as wellness coordinators, implementation of wellness programs in the workplace and health assessment tools. Because health care companies often have alliances with health care providers, their wellness programs can often take an extra step. For example, when you fill out a health assessment questionnaire, an insurance company can send it to your primary care physician. This lets your doctor keep an eye on your risk factors and give you support in reaching your goals.
Accreditation is another huge incentive for health insurance companies to offer wellness programs. The National Committee on Quality Assurance (NCQA) is a national accreditation organization for Managed Care Organizations (MCOs). In order to receive this accreditation, the insurance companies' MCO plans must have preventable health services, which often include wellness programs. While this accreditation isn't mandatory for insurance companies, many employers require it before they even consider using a certain health plan. Therefore, wellness programs can give an insurance company a competitive advantage over those companies who don't offer them.
Like businesses, health insurance companies offer customers incentives to use their wellness services. They often include discounts, cash or prizes that are awarded to customers who fill out health questionnaires, exercise for a defined amount of time or participate in weight loss programs.
However, there are disadvantages to health insurance wellness plans. Smaller businesses that only offer one type of plan. And while workplace wellness programs may eventually reduce health care premiums for a company and their employees, the premiums for an insurance plan that offers wellness may initially be high. Thus, many employees will simply switch to a lower cost plan with no wellness options.
You can find more information on wellness programs and related topics on the next page.