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Proving the ROI of wellness programs just got easier

11/24/2011

Every employer seems to be jumping on the wellness bandwagon in an effort to curb health care costs. But it’s always been hard for HR to prove its wellness investment is worth it. Reason: the inability to nail down a return on investment (ROI) on wellness programs.

To measure the health outcomes of wellness programs, employers typically use the results of health-risk assessments to divide employees into low-, medium- and high-risk groups, based on their number of risk factors, such as high cholesterol, obesity or tobacco use. They then track annual changes in risk status.

But it’s often hard to achieve a so-called “controlled environment” to accurately measure results over time. For example, an employee may register significant improvement, but was it truly due only to the wellness program?

Changing participation rates and employee turnover are two more factors that can affect ROI measures.

Frustrated by those facts, wellness advocates, researchers and employer groups are unveiling a host of new ROI tools. Among the most promising:

The Alliance for Wellness ROI, Inc., a nonprofit coalition of five large employers, is aiming to standardize how wellness benefits are defined. It currently counts 12 criteria and offers an ROI valuation methodology for wellness programs.

Learn more at www.roiwellness.org (click on “Wellness ROI Modeler”).

The National Committee for Quality Assurance (NCQA), a nonprofit that certifies and accredits health care organizations, developed health care industry-endorsed quality measures for wellness providers. It’s essentially a grading system for providers. NCQA’s standard definitions make it easier to compare wellness ROI across organizations. Go to www.ncqa.org for details.

The Wellness Council of America (www.welcoa.org) recently launched “The ROI Calculator.” It’s a free online tool that uses published studies to project how much a company could save by decreasing the percentage of employees who smoke or who are obese.

The American Institute for Preventive Medicine
(www.healthylife.com) developed the “Wellness Wizard” to help employers identify how many of their employees have health risk factors, such as smoking, obesity, asthma or diabetes. Using government statistics, the tool calculates the extra health care costs a company faces annually due to the risky behaviors.