Traditional wellness programs – focused mainly on physical health and fitness – are very popular and here to stay. But a shift is underway toward new approaches and initiatives that are intended to have a direct impact on health outcomes and costs.

Several factors are driving an expansion of what wellness can be for employee health and well-being efforts:

• The growth of health care for cities and towns. Massachusetts municipalities now allocate an estimated 12 to 20 percent of their budgets to health care, a significant increase over 10 years ago.

• A push for more comprehensive program measurement data to demonstrate that programs have a direct impact on medical outcomes.

• The ability to provide employees with holistic, actionable and highly relevant information and programs so they are better prepared to take charge of their health care and overall well-being.

A recent independent evaluation of MIIA’s wellness programs found that the most effective programs were those that had strong support from the top levels of management within an organization. MIIA’s programs were generally found to be successful at improving overall employee morale and productivity, while reducing turnover and lost time.

These benefits can be quite significant for any employer, but the study was not able to identify a clear connection between MIIA’s wellness activities and an improvement in health outcomes or a reduction in health care costs.

Expanding definition of wellness
MIIA’s wellness programs are now moving beyond a focus on physical fitness, weight loss and nutrition to a focus on creating better outcomes for medical care, increasing employee education regarding the health care system, and creating better financial value for employees, retirees and municipal employers.

MIIA will be keeping a majority of its traditional and popular wellness programs, while working to redefine and expand the focus of wellness offerings to include programs that more directly impact medical outcomes for employees and retirees as well as the cost of claims. As part of this effort, MIIA has increased its investment in wellness programming and has added staff.

The following are some examples of MIIA initiatives and approaches that can provide employees with relevant and actionable information – data and analytics that can be used to refine programs and mitigate health care costs:

• Integrated Approach to Musculoskeletal Disorders: Low-back and neck pain are among the 10 most expensive disease treatments in the United States. According to the Institute of Medicine, the economic burden of work-related musculoskeletal disorders, as measured by compensation costs, lost wages and lost productivity, are estimated at $45 billion to $54 billion per year.

MIIA is partnering with Integrated Mechanical Care to offer clinical services based on a multidisciplinary team approach for most musculoskeletal solutions. The goal is to reduce the prevalence and cost of musculoskeletal conditions. For every 300 musculoskeletal disorder cases, MIIA anticipates a 25 percent savings over traditional treatments.

• Post-65 Retiree Program: Retirees and their spouses over the age of 65 who are not eligible for Medicare Part A get free access to these Medicare benefits, with the employer paying for the cost of Part A.

• Good Health Gateways Diabetes Management Program: Diabetics can receive their medications and supplies without a copay as long as they complete the basic requirements for managing their diabetes, such as having important screenings and exams.

• Smartshopper: Health care consumers are rewarded with incentive checks of up to $250 for choosing to have certain elective medical procedures at lower-cost facilities.

• Telehealth: Subscribers get quick access to a medical professional via their smartphone, tablet or personal computer.

• Select Formulary for Medicare Part D Plans: MIIA began this program this year for 20 members. The remaining members will add this formulary on Jan. 1, 2019, with an expected savings of more than 4 percent on Medicare Part D premiums.

• Smart 90: Beginning on Feb. 1, enrollees will be allowed to receive a 90-day supply of their medication at any CVS retail location while only paying the mail order copayment.

Wellness is fundamental
Employers will continue to invest in well-being programs because they can improve the lives of employees and their families, support a positive workplace culture, and enhance productivity and loyalty.

But new and evolving wellness programs hold the promise of truly engaging employees to actively manage their own health, and they provide data and analytics that can lead to better program development and measurement, and, in the long-term, help to mitigate rising health care costs.

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