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Health education and preventative care on the rise in top U.S. companies

An increasing number of American employers are turning to education and preventative measures to control rising health care costs, according to a newly released study by Hewitt Associates, a global human resources consulting firm.

While employees benefit from health-promotion programs, employers also benefit by saving money.

Hewitt's study, "Health Promotion/Managed Health Provided by Major U.S. Employers in 2000," surveyed 1,020 U.S. companies, mostly Fortune 1000 companies.

The study purports that 92 percent of United States-based companies currently offer some kind of health-promotion program, such as health education or training, health-risk appraisals, screenings, vaccinations, disease-management programs, wellness care, and/or financial incentives for healthy living. The number is up from 88 percent in 1995.

While employees obviously benefit from such health-promotion programs, the bottom line is that employers also benefit by saving money.

"Due to increased cost pressures, employers are looking for creative and effective solutions, such as health promotion and medical management programs, that can provide cost savings, reduce absenteeism, and increase productivity," says Camille Haltom, a health care consultant with Hewitt.

Kelly Zitlow, a Hewitt spokesperson, confirmed that despite increased worker mobility in today's economy, companies that have invested in their employees' health by way of such measures reported "a definite financial gain in the area of health care costs."

Certainly, the scope of health-promotion programs varies widely among employers. Details from the Hewitt study show the kinds of programs that qualify as promotional health programs, and their prevalence among U.S. employers:

  • Seventy-four percent of the companies surveyed provide health screenings to detect conditions such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or breast cancer.
  • Seventy-one percent of companies offer some kind of health education or training, ranging from seminars and workshops to personal counseling.
  • Seventy-one percent of companies are either considering or are already offering disease-management programs. These programs seek to identify employees who are at risk for or who have acquired specific medical conditions, and then work to educate patients about effectively treating and living with these diseases.
  • Forty percent of companies offer financial incentives or disincentives. Incentives are given for things such as participation in health appraisals or screenings, while disincentives might include charging higher health insurance premiums for smokers or giving lower health insurance payouts to car accident victims who were not wearing a safety belt or were driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
  • Twenty-seven percent of companies administer health-risk appraisals — questionnaires designed to analyze an employee's health history and promote early detection of preventable illnesses.

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