(Victor Valley)– Wellness Programs and Preventing Illness Are New Model for Health Care. As California moves toward implementation of the Affordable Care Act, wellness programs that promote healthy choices to prevent illness are in the spotlight of the latest edition of CalChamber News. Under the law, federal grants may be available to some small businesses to offset the cost of established wellness programs, and insurance companies must provide wellness services, such as counseling and health screenings, at no extra cost to the employee.
Companies such as Safeway have made the investment and launched a workplace wellness program long ago, encouraging workers to take personal responsibility for their health.
Larree M. Renda, executive vice president for Safeway and 2010 chair of the CalChamber Board of Directors, reports that the company’s wellness program has been extremely successful for employees and the company’s bottom line.
“When we survey our employees, we know they are more engaged as a result of the wellness programs that we’ve offered here,” says Renda. “We also know they’re happier in their jobs and become more productive employees.”
The results are remarkable. By encouraging health screenings, immunizations, and programs to manage weight and quit smoking, Safeway and its workforce have saved substantially on health care costs through reduced absenteeism, reduced claims and fewer doctors’ visits.
“And while the rest of the world has had on average an 8 percent, 8-and-a-half percent health care cost increase on an annual basis, our costs are nearly flat,” Renda says.
One example of the success of Safeway’s wellness program is Eric Ward, a facilities manager with the company. Ward has taken full advantage of Safeway’s wellness program. By consciously choosing fresh fruit or vegetables to snack on, keeping a regular running schedule and making consistent use of Safeway’s state-of-the-art fitness center at company headquarters, he’s lost more than 60 pounds.
“I have a lot more energy, I have a lot more,” says Ward. “I can lead my people as opposed to manage them. I listen to them more; I’m more attentive as opposed to just being tired.”
Based on a Texas case study, wellness programs can yield savings of $2.43 for every dollar spent, according to the Centers for Disease Control. On a larger scale, it’s the kind of math that adds up for any business, regardless of size.
“I think wellness is not just a smart business practice for the people who benefit, but also for the employers themselves,” says Dr. Sanjay Varshney, dean of the School of Business at California State University, Sacramento.
Renda sums up the benefits best, saying, “Any business that doesn’t invest in its employees and wellness programs is really missing a huge opportunity.”
Businesses interested in learning more about how to establish a workplace wellness program and the tangible benefits it creates should visit www.healthlawguideforbusiness.org.