health affairs logoThe trend towards adopting wellness programs aimed at reducing employee health-related costs and improving productivity is based on the assumed veracity of the claims of wellness proponents. But new research in the journal Health Affairs has raised some doubts on just how much money employers save after jumping on the wellness bandwagon. The researched focused on the two-year wellness program at BJC HealthCare in St. Louise, which concentrated on reducing six specific health risks: serious respiratory infections, stroke, diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, and chronic lung problems.

The comprehensive program provided participating employees top-level insurance, costing the hospital almost $1,650 in additional costs per family coverage plan. Hospitalizations for employees and their families did drop by over 40 percent for all areas, but much of those savings were erased in payments for outpatient visits and medication. Though the hospital only came out even financially, the study did not measure the program’s effects on productivity or absenteeism.

Another issue frequently addressed through wellness programs, stress, has also received some recent attention. According to new research, one-third of employees suffer from chronic stress which was found to be more prevalent in women than in men. Women also regularly noted feeling underpaid and less appreciated than their counterparts. The primary causes of stress were found to be feeling underpaid (54 percent), having very few opportunities for advancement (61 percent), and feeling undervalued (50 percent).

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