The face of health care is changing and there are many unknowns about what it will look like in the future. One thing is currently clear – health care costs are rising. According to a survey of Employer Health Benefits done by the Kaiser Family Foundation, family premiums for employer-sponsored health coverage have increased by 131 percent since 1999.* Many companies have found that instituting employee wellness programs helps curb health care expenditures and encourages employees to take responsibility for their own well-being. The costs of creating and implementing these programs can seem prohibitive for smaller companies but help is on the way to change this perceived reality.
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (The Health Reform bill) signed into law by President Obama in March 2010 provides $200 million in funding for grants to small businesses (less than 100 employees), for developing comprehensive wellness programs for employees. The grants will be given through the Department of Health and Human Services and should be available starting in 2011. Though additional guidelines are still being developed, the act is clear on what “comprehensive” means for eligible employers.
For grant eligibility, the program must include:
- Health awareness initiatives (e.g., education, screenings, assessments)
- Efforts to maximize employee engagement (e.g., incentives such as premium refunds for employees attaining individual fitness and health goals)
- Initiatives to change unhealthy behaviors and lifestyle choices (e.g., counseling, seminars, online health-tracking programs)
- A supportive work environment (workplace policies that encourage healthy lifestyles, healthy eating, improved mental health)
The funds will likely go fast. Now is the time to start considering how your company could benefit from helping your employees improve and take responsibility for their health and well being. What areas of health seem to be critical issues for your employees? What does the company stand to gain financially from program implementation? How could the organization encourage employees to live a healthy lifestyle? If you take the time now to outline a plan, you’ll be ready to submit your application when funds become available. Simple changes can reap huge rewards.
*Kaiser Family Foundation and Health Research and Educational Trust. Employer Health Benefits 2009 Annual Survey. September 2009.