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10 Practical Employee Wellness Tips for Reducing Healthcare Costs

Jodi Wellhoefer, Strategic Risk Advisor

If there’s one thing employers and employees alike wish they could control, it’s rising healthcare costs. Annual family premiums for employer-sponsored health insurance rose another 5% in 2018. Average workers each contributed $5,547 toward family coverage, with their employers covering the rest. Over the past 10 years, premiums have risen 55% — twice as fast as workers’ earnings.

It’s left many throwing up their hands in surrender, feeling like skyrocketing costs are inevitable. As an employer, there are ways you can significantly influence the rate at which premiums go up. It requires getting your workforce involved in making better healthcare decisions and making wellness a priority in big and small ways to help reduce the number and severity of claims over time. Here are 10 ways to do just that.

1. Offer On-site Wellness Opportunities 

Convenience is a major factor in promoting wellness. Employees are sometimes hesitant to use their PTO to schedule time for outside appointments or other wellness opportunities. Make it easy for them by bringing some of those opportunities to them. Schedule onsite flu shots or biometric screenings. Offer lunch and learns on relevant health topics, or provide nutritional counseling or fitness classes. By promoting wellness onsite, you’re showing it’s a priority and keeping it front and center. 

2. Encourage Activity Throughout the Day

Many office environments require sitting for long periods of time, leading some experts to proclaim that “sitting is the new smoking.” Research shows that prolonged periods of sitting can increase the risks of obesity, neck and back pain, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and even cancer. Provide standing desks when possible, and encourage employees to take short walks during breaks. Something as simple as putting the water cooler farther away from a work area can help. Some workplaces create fun moments throughout the day, such as having spontaneous one-minute plank or push-up challenges.

3. Provide Healthy Break Room Snacks

Who hasn’t walked into the office break room to discover a box of donuts or left over birthday cake? While sugar-laden treats can be fine in moderation on occasion, these items often sabotage wellness efforts. Offer alternatives, such as fresh fruits, trail mix, nuts, string cheese, vegetables, dark chocolate, etc. Still want to bring in a tray of brownies? Cut them into smaller pieces. Every little bit helps. 

4. Reimburse for Fitness Club Memberships

Unless someone’s job duties are physically demanding, most Americans don’t get enough exercise throughout the work day and need to remain active in other ways. Consider implementing a fitness reimbursement program and determine eligible activities, which may include visits to health centers, swim or tennis clubs, martial arts classes, sports leagues, yoga instruction or personal training sessions.

5. Offer Tobacco Cessation Programs 

It’s estimated that employers can save nearly $6,000 per year for every employee who quits smoking, according to the American Lung Association. These savings are a result of lower healthcare costs, increased workplace productivity and, most importantly, prevented premature deaths. Paying for the cost of a tobacco cessation program pales in comparison to the resulting savings and benefits.

6. Promote Preventative Care

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests that preventive services are used about half as much as they should be. The alternative is waiting until an illness or injury occurs before seeking medical care, which drives up overall medical claims and insurance premiums. Allow employees to take personal time for preventative care appointments and procedures that doesn’t count against their paid time off. Some employers even provide incentives for completing preventative care. Additional measures include building a relationship with a primary care provider and challenging discrepancies on medical bills.

7. Educate About Prescription Drug Use 

One of the biggest factors driving up claims and premiums is the cost of prescription drugs. Clearly, advances in medicine have made major strides in minimizing or eradicating many health issues. Increasingly, however, specialty drugs — like those seen on television commercials — are flooding the market, and these medications can cost thousands in claims each month and are often designed to be taken for a lifetime. Often, less costly alternatives or generic versions can achieve similar results at a fraction of the cost. Drive down the severity of claims by educating your employees about the financial implications of using “designer” prescription drugs, and encourage them to talk to their doctors about options and to shop around for the best prices.

8. Educate About Using the Emergency Room

Another major expense is overuse of emergency room services. All too often, people with minor injuries or illnesses, such as an ear infection or a sprain, go to the emergency room to receive treatment. Educate employees to only use the emergency room for true emergencies. Not only are claim costs substantially higher for emergency room visits, seeking treatment for a non-emergency situation can further overwhelm busy healthcare providers and distract them from helping those who truly have life-threatening or serious conditions. When possible, employees should schedule an appointment with primary care providers, utilize tele-doc services, or visit an urgent care center or walk-in clinic.

9. Improve Culture to Lower Stress

It’s estimated that excessive workplace stress represents 5% to 8% of national healthcare spending. Improving your workplace culture and work/life balance is one of the best ways to reduce stress and related costs. Not only does an engaged workforce experience greater health benefits, you’ll experience improved productivity and business results.

10. Develop an Employee Wellness Program 

While many of the ideas shared in this article can help reduce claims and health insurance premiums, there is no silver bullet. Achieving the best results requires implementing several measures and consistently reinforcing wellness and personal responsibility over time. Combining all your efforts into a structured wellness program that stays top-of-mind for employees is a key to lowering healthcare costs and driving down premiums in the future.

Keeping healthcare costs at bay is possible when employees embrace a culture of wellness. See how one company did just that in the success story below.  Or, to learn more about the different ways we can help you achieve your company’s health and wellness initiatives, contact our team.

A Strategic Approach to Health Benefits