Communications Firm Offers Five Considerations For Incentive-Based Programs

Starting next year, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) allows health plans to increase the incentives for employees who meet specific health metrics from 20 percent of the cost of their health care coverage to 30 percent—and as high as 50 percent for tobacco-related wellness programs. Increasingly, companies are putting real money at stake to motivate employees and their dependents toward adopting healthy habits. The National Business Group on Health (NBGH) found that 30 percent of large employers link health outcomes and financial incentives.

According to Jennifer Benz, founder and chief strategist of Benz Communications, a human resource and benefits communication strategy firm, “The increase in allowable incentives will fuel the growing trend among employers of linking financial incentives to health outcomes—and effective communication will be essential to get employees on board and engaged. With incentive amounts rising, getting employees engaged in these programs is more critical than ever.”

A recent NBGH survey reveals that 68 percent of employees do not think they should be required to participate in wellness programs in order to qualify for health insurance and 71 percent do not want to be charged more for health coverage if they do not meet specific health goals.

“The first step in implementing a successful outcomes-based incentive program is being aware of employees’ readiness to change—and their resistance to it. Given the resistance demonstrated by these statistics, effective communication is even more critical when introducing incentive-based wellness programs. A balanced strategy combining carefully-considered incentives and an engaging communication strategy can yield employee participation rates topping 90 percent,” Benz continued.

The following are Benz Communications’ five factors to consider when developing a communication program for an incentive-based wellness program.

1. Participation still counts. Sustained behavior change is driven by an internal sense of satisfaction or pleasure, rather than any external motivator, such as money. “However, the intrinsic motivation necessary for lasting change begins with awareness. Introducing a wellness program can be just the thing to open employees’ eyes to the benefits of new behaviors,” said Benz.

2. Privacy is a major concern. Employees still cite privacy concerns as a reason for non-participation in a wellness program. “It’s necessary to continually stress that individual participation in activities that increase both physical and financial health comes with rewards. And, you need to continually reassure and validate that employees’ personal data and health history is private. Wellness program developers and benefits communicators need to identify all possible levers to getting everyone to choose wellness—not just the already healthy and motivated,” said Benz.

3. Disclosure requirements remain a factor. Employers will have to continue to tell plan participants about the alternatives to wellness program participation and provide other disclosures. “These requirements should not prevent you from producing engaging communications that can get people excited about the programs,” said Benz.

4. American culture is working against employers. “When 68.8 percent of American adults and as many as 33 percent of children and teens are obese, it’s clear that healthy eating habits aren’t easy to develop or sustain,” noted Benz. “We will always advocate for individual responsibility—but not without an appreciation for how hard it is to make healthy choices in the face of real-life circumstances. Between travel for work, the second shift (either a paying second job or a non-paying child care job) and food marketing—just to name a few obstacles—employers need to stay creative and flexible in the ways they support employees on the road to wellness.”

5. Simple administration is critical. “No matter how hefty the financial incentive or elegant the announcement mailer, if an employee can’t navigate the administration of a program, it will fail,” said Benz. For example, how exactly will biometric data get to wellness program administrators? Is it as simple as showing up for a health fair onsite at all locations? Or will employees need to self-administer blood samples and then enter their information into a website? “Map out all the possible scenarios before you begin to promote a program. All the barriers you can remove will pay dividends in participant rates,” Benz concluded.

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