NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Workplace Wellness Program Participation

September 16, 2015

A new study examined the effect of financial incentives on wellness program participation, and estimated the impact of wellness program participation on utilization of health care services and spending. 

Wellness programs have faced legal challenges, because the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has claimed that they violate the Americans with Disabilities Act. Yet, use of financial incentives to encourage participation may continue to grow as employers seek ways to avoid the excise tax on high-cost health plans.

The study confirmed that financial incentives ($240 per worker) were successful at encouraging employee participation, specifically in health risk assessments and biometric screenings. 

  • Participation in health risk assessments increased by 50% among union members and 22% among non-union employees.
  • Participation in biometric screenings increased 55% when financial incentives were provided.
  • Less healthy individuals were also willing to participate in the program.
  • The largest increase in medication usage as a result of biometric screening was for statins, which are used to treat cholesterol.
  • Biometric screening also led to significantly higher utilization of biologic response modifiers and immunosuppressants which are used to treat autoimmune diseases.

Nevertheless, after conducting the health risk assessments, no major change was seen on utilization of health care services and spending. Biometric screenings, by contrast, increased prescription drug utilization and spending.

The study, however, cannot examine the effects of the program beyond one year. More data is required to determine if in the long run wellness programs can lead to improvements in health and as a result to reductions in utilization of health care services and spending.

Source: Paul Fronstin and Christopher Roebuck, "Workplace Wellness Program Participation," Employee Benefit Research Institute, August 2015.


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