Wellness programs: More than a 'nice to have'


A few years ago, employee wellness was a nice-to-have program. But now, more than 50 percent of healthcare dollars are associated with lifestyle conditions, making it a must-have for today's employers. And with this must-have mentality, companies increasingly look to start or expand wellness programs.

One of those companies is Louisville, Kentucky-based Humana, which offers a wellness and rewards program provided through HumanaVitality. Thanks to the wellness program, Humana cut unscheduled absences from work by 56 percent and monthly claims costs by an average of $53 for more than 13,000 participating employees.

To learn more about the increased focus on employee wellness and how to encourage healthy behaviors, FierceHealthPayer spoke with Joe Woods (pictured right), CEO of HumanaVitality.

"It's a great focused effort to get people to understand that they can make changes, even if it's a step at a time," Woods told FierceHealthPayer in an exclusive interview.

FierceHealthPayer: How has the industry's approach to wellness evolved over the years? And where do you think wellness programs are headed?

Woods: In the past, individuals have taken a self-assessment and gotten their results, but nothing really happened. You get all this information but there's nothing there to guide you to figure out the appropriate choices to make to change the way you're living you're life, or if you're living a healthy life, how to continue down that pathway.

What's happened recently, particularly with HumanaVitality, is you not only take the health assessment to understand your current state of health, but you actually get personalized help to make the changes that you need.

I'm the perfect example of this. When I started with HumanaVitality three-plus years ago, I took the health assessment. It was a real wake-up call for me because I realized I had high cholesterol, my vitality age was older than my actual age, and I was overweight. I participated in the program and lost about 47 pounds in nine months.

It was an eye-opener for me, even someone in the industry, because I didn't know what I was doing wrong and I wasn't sure how to change what I was doing. That's what these programs offer now that wasn't there two or three years ago.

FierceHealthPayer: What elements make up a successful wellness program?

Woods: To be successful, employers will build a culture of wellness and not just buy up a solution and have it live on its own. Humana has been very successful as an employer because it doesn't just look at this as a solution--turn it on and let it go. Humana built into the language of how it speaks to its employees and how it equips the workplace for the individuals who work there to have a real culture of wellness.

Buy-in from the top-down also is important. I have seen that even Bruce Bussouard who runs Humana is an advocate for this program and participates. It's a combination of executive leadership being champions and an environment where you're building a culture of wellness that supports not just a program like HumanaVitality but supports people making the right choices to change their habits.

FHP: How do you motivate unengaged members to make healthy lifestyle choices?

Woods: We try to make the program accessible for everybody. We try to remove the barriers that have oftentimes been the issue with folks engaging in the past. For example, a lot of people think you have to be super in shape to do well or to progress well in a wellness program. That's absolutely not true.

Our program gets everybody engaged and starts them all from the same level, regardless of if you traditionally walked 10,000 steps a day, ran marathons or have hardly gotten off of the couch. Because we personalize the opportunities to participate, that starts to remove those barriers of fear or not knowing how to get started. We need to understand that wellness programs have to be all-inclusive; an individual has to be able to go at their pace and gain success and be rewarded the way they want to. Personalize the approach to it and make sure it's not just a one-size-fits-all.

Editor's Note: This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.