Do Workplace Wellness Programs Work? Usually Not

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(New York Times) – Most news coverage of the new Kaiser Family Foundation annual survey on employer-sponsored health plans has focused on the fact that growth in premiums in 2013 was as low as it has ever been in the 16 years of the survey. But buried in the details of the report are some interesting insights into how employers think about controlling health care costs. One example is that they’re very fond of workplace wellness programs. This is surprising, because while such programs sound great, research shows they rarely work as advertised.

Wellness programs aim to encourage workers to be more healthy. Many use financial incentives to motivate workers to monitor and improve their health, sometimes through lifestyle-modification programs aimed at lowering cholesterol or blood pressure, for instance. Some programs offer a carrot, like discounts on health insurance to employees who complete health-risk assessments. Others use a stick, penalizing poor performance, or charging people more for smoking or having a high body mass index, for example.

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