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Wellness Trends: Finding Opportunities in New Healthcare Rules

March 20, 2013 / Employee Wellbeing Best Practices

Trends in nearly every aspect of life are changing the way wellness programs can engage employees and bring greater value to organizations and stakeholders. These trends motivated us to create the white paper, “5 Big Trends to Improve Your Workplace Wellness Programs in 2013” (free download). This article is part one of an ongoing series outlining major trends in workplace wellness programs for the coming year.

The world around us is constantly changing. That’s a given. Some shifts cause an immediate and direct impact on our personal lives or our work. Others sneak up on us and have a more gradual but equally significant influence.

If you’re responsible for your organization’s workplace wellness programs, you need to pay attention to both types of change.

Shifts can be as disparate as new healthcare laws and new apps for smartphones – and all are affecting the way workplace wellness programs are designed and implemented. Trends in nearly every aspect of life are changing the way wellness programs can engage your employees and bring greater value to your organization and stakeholders. In this particular piece we will focus on the former:  The Affordable Healthcare Act will affect the design of workplace wellness programs in several ways.

“The new law will spur administrators of wellness programs to look for solutions from vendors that offer communication and management options that will ensure continued participation and engagement as the designs of their plans change,” says Barrett Coakley, senior product marketing manager for Virgin HealthMiles.

Plan Design

First, the new regulations require employers to rethink the types of wellness programs they offer beginning in 2014, to stay in compliance with federal mandates.

The law will also compel companies to reassess their incentive strategies to make sure they’re in line with new incentive levels. The new rules increase incentive levels from 20 percent to 30 percent (50 percent for smoking cessation) starting in 2014.

Employers will need to reconsider how they divvy up their budget for various incentives to engage specific audiences and reach more narrowly defined wellness goals. Research has shown that incentives are more effective if they target specific audiences.


“With the changes to regulations, companies will need to drive even greater employee awareness and participation in their wellness programs to maximize their return on investment,” Coakley says. “This has the added benefit of heightening the organization’s return on investment in those programs.”

For example, the new regulations allow either incentives or penalties of up to
50 percent of the cost of coverage to employees and their employers for smoking cessation programs.

“Why does it allow for either incentives or penalties?” Coakley asks. “Research shows that sometimes the carrot works and sometimes the stick gets better results. You’ll have to determine what will work best for your population before you decide how to position your incentive dollars.”

Example of Variable Incentive Offerings Under the Affordable Care Act 

Example of Variable Incentives Offering Under ACA Rules


Vendor management

In its simplest form, the new law gives employers a chance to stop and evaluate how they manage the vendors who provide their various workplace wellness programs. With all of the upcoming changes, for continued employee participation and success, it’s crucial that your employees are able to:

  • Easily locate and understand all of the workplace wellness programs you offer, on either your company website or benefits portal;
  • Quickly identify programs that will best meet their individual health needs and interests;
  • Easily sign up to participate in any of the programs you offer;
  • Enjoy supportive communication through company vendor management to develop uncluttered and supportive communication .

“There’s a lot of information out there already,” Coakley says. “Look how many emails we get every day. If you’re adding multiple vendors and multiple programs to your wellness initiatives, using email to keep your employees informed about all of your offerings may not be the simplest and clearest way to communicate with them.”

One answer is a system that provides an umbrella for all of your organization’s health and wellness programs and benefits. This way, your employees can find all wellness-related communications easily and quickly.

“This corporate health-and-wellness umbrella could really help you drive greater awareness of your wellness offerings and as a result, boost employee participation,” Coakley says.

In our next post we will examine the role Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) plays in corporate wellness programs and how companies can enable employees to use the tools they want to use.

Have an opinion on other ways companies can take advantage of the new health care laws? Please feel free to leave a comment below.

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