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IN SHADOW OF HEALTH REFORM, EMPLOYERS CONTINUE TO STRESS WELLNESS PROGRAMS

 SAN FRANCISCO, Oct. 27 /PRNewswire/ -- Reform of America's health care system, which appears certain in the near future, is not derailing employers from establishing their own wellness programs, a 179-company survey by William M. Mercer Inc. finds.
 More than half the companies (52 percent) currently have such programs that provide health-related information and support to employees, typically encouraging them to shed unhealthy practices in favor of healthy ones. And -- as health reform takes shape in Washington -- fully one-fifth of the companies currently without a wellness program are planning, or at least considering, implementing one. Only 15 percent have not considered a plan, and just 13 percent have done so and rejected the idea.
 Employers seem pleased for the most part with their programs. Close to a third (30 percent) say they are "very satisfied" with their wellness plan, while 59 percent admit being "somewhat satisfied." Most report that employees, too, are similarly pleased with the programs. Only a scant 11 percent of the employers, on the other hand, report being dissatisfied.
 Not unexpectedly, the reason for sponsoring a wellness program is to help save on health benefit costs, according to four out of five of the survey participants. The hoped-for savings come from the programs' goal of reducing preventable illnesses. But only a handful of companies (12 percent) with plans that have been in effect more than a year can actually attribute cost-savings to them.
 Virtually all these latter companies report that health benefit cost savings are equal to about double what the wellness program costs.
 Often, companies use incentives to encourage employee participation: Well above half (61 percent) of plan sponsors provide some form of incentive for employees to take part in the programs. Although most offer non-cash awards, others provide cash or such benefits as reductions in the employee's share of health insurance premiums.
 The typical employee wellness plan incorporates such services as blood pressure, cholesterol and cancer screening, smoking cessation and nutrition and weight loss programs. Usually, employee meetings and seminars, augmented by newsletters and informational materials, help to get the health education message across.
 William M. Mercer Inc. is one of the nation's leading actuarial, employee benefits, compensation and human resources management consulting firms. Its more than 3,500 employees serve more than 9,000 employers from offices in 43 U.S. cities. The firm, headquartered in New York, is the U.S. operating company of William M. Mercer Companies Inc., a worldwide consulting organization serving clients from offices in 102 cities in 24 countries and territories. William M. Mercer Companies Inc. is part of Mercer Consulting Group Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Mash & McLennan Companies Inc.
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 /CONTACT: Jill Madison, 415-393-5755; or Richard A. Kleinert (Los Angeles), 213-480-6487; or Robert L. Wildenberg (Orange County), 714-704-2300/


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Publication:PR Newswire
Date:Oct 27, 1993
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