American employers plan to spend an average of US$594 ($660) per employee on wellness-based incentives within their healthcare programs this year, according to a survey.

The Fidelity Investments and the National Business Group on Health (NBGH) survey notes that it’s 15% higher from the average of US$521 ($579) reported for 2013, and it is more than double the average of US$260 ($289) reported five years ago.

The largest increase was among companies with fewer than 5,000 employees, where the per employee average climbed to US$595 ($661), one-third higher than the average of US$444 ($493) per employee in 2013.

The most popular wellness programs continue to be focused on lifestyle management, such as physical activity programs, weight management programs and stress management.

Other popular health improvement options include disease/care management programs (e.g., managing chronic health conditions, such as diabetes), lifestyle management services (e.g., weight loss advice, gym membership discounts), health-risk management services (e.g., on-site flu shots) and environmental enhancements (e.g., bike racks, walking paths).

In addition to increasing the average amount spent per employee, the survey found that most companies view wellness programs as an essential part of their benefits program.

The survey found that 95% of companies plan to offer some kind of health improvement program for their employees, and the percentage of companies offering incentives to participate in these initiatives has increased to 74% in 2014 from 57% in 2009.

When asked about ongoing funding for wellness-based incentive programs, 93% of companies indicated they plan to expand or maintain funding for their program over the next three to five years.

And 44% of companies said they plan to maintain or increase their investment in wellness programs, even if their company were to move away from direct involvement in employer-sponsored health coverage, such as a move to a private exchange model to provide health benefits for their employees.

As the design of wellness programs continues to evolve, an increasing number of companies are expanding wellness-based incentives to include spouses and domestic partners. Thirty-seven percent of companies surveyed indicated their program will include spouses and domestic partners in 2014.

While many employers offer incentives through cash or a gift card, an increasing number of employers offer incentives through an employer-sponsored health savings account, flexible spending account or similar care-based savings vehicle.

“Companies are constantly looking for new and creative ways to expand their programs and motivate their workforce, such as extending wellness incentives to spouses and offering incentives through a contribution to a health savings account,” says Robert Kennedy, health and welfare practice leader with Fidelity’s benefits consulting business. “Increasingly, employers are viewing health improvement even more broadly through the lens of well-being and productivity.”

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Copyright © 2019 Transcontinental Media G.P. Originally published on benefitscanada.com

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