Category Archives: wellness initiatives

Wellness Battle: AARP vs. EEOC

A federal lawsuit was just filed against the government agency that handles the rules on workplace wellness programs, according to the New York Times, which calls the suit “the first major legal challenge of the regulations, and will add fuel to one of the hottest debates in healthcare.”

The main point of contention in the suit is whether some programs that require an employee to fill out a health risk assessment or undergo biometric testing for conditions such as high blood pressure are forcing workers to hand over private medical or genetic information.

The suit was filed by AARP, the consumer advocacy group that represents older Americans, in Federal District Court in Washington. In the suit, the group argues that the programs violate anti-discrimination laws aimed at protecting workers’ medical information. It also questions whether the programs are truly voluntary when the price of not participating can be high.

The suit takes aim at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the federal agency responsible for issuing the rules governing what employers can do. When the agency issued new rules on the programs in May, it said employers could set the incentive as high as 30 percent of the annual cost of a worker’s health insurance coverage.

The cost of individual coverage averages $6,435 a year, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, which means refusing to participate could cost workers nearly $2,000.

Claiming that the commission reversed its longstanding position to protect employees’ privacy, the AARP described its members as facing “imminent harm flowing directly from the rules.” Older people would have to either incur significant financial penalties or divulge medical information that “once revealed, will never be confidential again.”

The AARP is seeking a preliminary injunction to stop the new rules, which go into effect in 2017.

James Gelfand, senior vice president for health policy for the Erisa Industry Committee, a trade group representing employers on issues like health benefits, was critical of the AARP suit. Employers, which are never told which employees have certain conditions, are not using the information to discriminate, he said.

“There’s no evidence of these things happening,” he told the Times.

The EEOC so far has declined to comment on the new lawsuit.

Beware of the ‘Food Altar’ at Work

ThinkstockPhotos-178634141Anthropologists tell us that sharing food is nearly universal in human society. And that includes the office.

Some workplaces have raised the custom to a high art. Think of Doughnut Day. Strawberries from the garden. Cookies from home. Leftovers from a lunch meeting. M&Ms in a bowl on the boss’s desk.

These rituals humanize the workplace. They break up the monotony of work. And who doesn’t like to eat?

One problem: Much of that food is unhealthy. And the cornucopia can undercut both company wellness programs and individual efforts at healthy eating. What good does it do to put bananas in the vending machines or carrots in your lunch bag when Susie in accounting brings brownies?

One recent study about this problem says there’s a term for that place in every office where food gets piled. They’re called “food altars,” according to four researchers at the University of California Davis.

Published in the June issue of the journal Food, Culture & Society, the study was by Carolyn Thomas, Jennifer Sedell, Charlotte Biltekoff and Sara Schaefer. They studied the eating habits of 25 university office workers to draw some conclusions that could apply to many workplaces.

They found that while health-conscious employees might have elaborate systems to control consumption, their efforts often were “sabotaged by food that simply materialized in the workplace.” Food altars, they wrote, are “responsible for the majority of unplanned and ‘unhealthful’ eating decisions in the workplace.”

The result: “A workplace-sanctioned system of food-choice challenges.”

Anyone who’s worked in an office will recognize the problem. Yet how can we control it? No one wants to be the Grinch who refuses to bring in bagels when it’s their turn. Or to be the boss who issues a memo declaring the office a carrot-cake-free zone.

The study authors don’t propose a solution. But at least they’ve identified a problem and given it a name. The rest, alas, is up to us.

Wait … Work Is Good for Your Health?

A compre200400993-001hensive survey of American workers this week offered some predictable findings about health and employment. But there are some happy surprises as well.

Perhaps most interesting was a finding that 28 percent of workers said their job was good for their overall health. That’s considerably more than the 16 percent who said it was bad.  (The rest, a slight majority, said their job had no effect on their overall health.)

Why the upbeat view? Researchers didn’t ask, and declined to share any thoughts about what respondents meant. But we can find some clues on our own by looking at this poll and other research. And those clues offer some encouragement for HR professionals.

How does your job affect your _____?
Good impact Bad impact No impact
Overall health 28% 16% 54%
Eating habits 15% 28% 56%
Stress level 16% 43% 39%
Sleeping habits 17% 27% 55%
Weight 19% 22% 57%
Social life 27% 17% 56%
Family life 32% 17% 50%
Source: Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health

Make no mistake, there are plenty of concerns raised by this survey, which was performed by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in conjunction with National Public Radio and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Researchers polled 1,601 working Americans across a range of ages, ethnicities, income levels and industries. The margin of error for the full sample was 2.9 percent at the 95 percent confidence level.

NPR stories about the survey this week have highlighted how workers with disabilities often struggle at work, how lack of sick leave can drive some families into financial crisis and why so many employees go to work while sick.

Among other troubling — if unsurprising — findings was that 43 percent of respondents said work added stress to their lives. A news release from the university quoted poll director Robert J. Blendon concluding that “The takeaway here is that job number one for U.S. employers is to reduce stress in the workplace.”

But what might workers be thinking when they say their job is good for their health?

One obvious point is that having a job means having an income and (often) having insurance. That’s definitely good for your health. But I wonder if many respondents were really thinking at that level of abstraction.

There’s also research suggesting that, in fact, work is good for your health. One frequently-cited research overview conducted in the United Kingdom concluded that meaningful, safe work generally offers physical and mental-health benefits. Being active and having a purpose is good for us.

But were many respondents thinking about arcane findings in the field of occupational health?

Perhaps a more plausible explanation is in the new poll itself — findings that suggest wellness programs really matter. More than half of respondents said their company had a formal wellness program.

Even more significant: Of those workers, a whopping 45 percent said that program was “very important” to their health. Nearly as many said it was “somewhat important.”

Wellness programs don’t offer any clues about some other surprising findings in this poll, alas. Respondents also apparently think work is good for their social life and (even more mysteriously) their family life. Let’s hope researchers some day will drill deeper to find out what’s really going on here.

A Wake-Up Call for the Sleep Deprived

Several familiar themes emerged at Virgin Pulses’ 2016 Thrive Summit in Boston this week, including some we heard at HRE’s Health & Benefits Leadership Conference earlier this spring.

Arianna Huffington’s humorous and engaging keynote Tuesday afternoon on the topic of sleep deprivation was one that personally resonated with me. Maybe it had something do with the fact I was still struggling with jet lag, having just returned from a trip from Japan the weekend before?

Of course, you don’t need to be a rocket scientist to grasp the detrimental impact sleep deprivation can have on effectiveness and productivity. Studies have repeatedly shown the huge toll it can take on businesses, including one titled “Insomnia and the Performance of U.S. Workers: Results from the American Insomnia Survey” that put lost workplace productivity at around 11 days per employee—or the equivalent of $2,280 per employee. If you’re a business leader, figures like these, you would think, could lead to a few sleepless nights of your own.

Huffington, founder, president and editor-in-chief of the Huffington Post Media Group, touched on the problem of sleep deprivation in Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder. Most likely in the hopes of drawing more attention to this ever-important issue, she also came out with a new book last month dedicated to the subject titled The Sleep Revolution: Transforming Your Life, One Night at a Time. (As an attendee at the Thrive Summit, I received a complimentary copy, which I’m looking forward to giving a more thorough read.)

In her Thrive Summit talk, Huffington shared her own personal awakening, which involved pushing herself so hard nine years earlier that she collapsed and, in the process, broke her cheekbone. She noted that “you’re not successful when you find yourself in a pool of blood.”

After a series of doctor visits and testing, she said it was determined the cause of the fall wasn’t a brain tumor or heart condition, but was due to her not getting enough sleep.

“Sleep deprivation is the new smoking,” she said.

Despite noting that her talk would be apolitical, Huffington, a political commentary who regularly takes aim at the Republican Party, couldn’t refrain from taking a jab at the Republican Party’s “presumptive” nominee, who has, on occasion, boasted about the limited sleep he needs to get. That candidate, she said, seems to display all of the symptoms of a person who is sleep deprived: mood swings, bad judgement, etc.

Huffington said the science shows that people need seven to nine hours of sleep, not the three, four or five many are settling on—and employers and HR leaders need to do more to enable that to happen.

For starters, she said, business leaders need to end the practice of praising and rewarding those who never disconnect from their jobs. “When you congratulate people who work 24/7, it’s like congratulating them for coming to work drunk,” she said.

Huffington specifically praised the efforts of business leaders such as Amazon’s CEO and Founder Jeff Bezos and Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, who have been ahead of the curve in talking about the value of getting eight hours of sleep a night. Other so-called “sleep evangelists” mentioned in The Sleep Revolution include Campbell Soup CEO Denise Morrison and Google Chairman Eric Schmidt.

There are a number of steps people can take to get “rekindle our romance with sleep,” Huffington said. She specifically emphasized the value of creating a ritual before going to bed. For her, that ritual includes disconnecting from all electronic devices roughly 30 minutes ahead of time and taking a hot bath in Epsom salts.

Whether it’s 30 minutes or something less, she said, “we need to wind down and put the day behind us.”

Of course, for those of us who aren’t getting enough sleep, changing our behavior is often easier said than done. So it probably wasn’t a coincidence that the program kicked off the following morning with a workshop titled “Behavior Change is a Skill,” conducted by BJ Fogg, director of the Persuasive Tech Lab at Stanford University.

The premise of his workshop was that people can learn to change their behaviors—that people can acquire skills for changing just as they can learn how to play a musical instrument or swim.

Or, I suppose for that matter, learn how to get a better night’s sleep.

What Winning at Wellness Looks Like

Curious to see what makes for a top-notch wellness program?

I’ll assume you said yes, which means you might want to take a peek at the new U.S. Chamber of Commerce Winning with Wellness report.

Released earlier this month, the new publication is designed to “demystify” health promotion initiatives, looking at some of the “fundamentals of workplace wellness programs,” including evidence-based critical components such as developing a plan and applying behavior change methodologies, for example.

The report also lays out “10 Essential Steps in Designing a Workplace Wellness Program,” urging employers to “rely on evidence-based best practice strategies and tailor interventions to their populations” when plotting out wellness initiatives.

To begin planning, for instance, the report suggests that employers assess the organization’s readiness to adopt a workplace wellness strategy, asking “crucial questions” such as: Are there business plans in place that support or impede behavior change? Is there a history of workplace wellness programs? If so, what are some lessons learned? Can the organization specify how health changes can improve the work environment?

In addition, the report cites case studies demonstrating “employee satisfaction and social or financial ROI” from wellness programs at companies such as PepsiCo Inc. and Johnson & Johnson.

An evaluation of PepsiCo’s Healthy Living wellness program, for example, studied the initiative over the course of seven years in an effort to determine the cost impact of its lifestyle and disease management programs.

As the Chamber report notes, the study revealed that Pepsi saw an average reduction of $30 in healthcare costs per member per month, after seven years of continuous participation in either the lifestyle or disease management program.

A 2011 evaluation of Johnson & Johnson, meanwhile, compared a matched cohort sample of its 31,823 employees to similar organizations with a comparable number of employees. According to the U.S. Chamber, the findings demonstrated that, from the years 2002 to 2008, “Johnson & Johnson experienced a 3.7 percent lower average annual growth in medical costs compared to the comparison group,” and J & J wellness programs produced an ROI of $3.92 for every dollar spent.

Finally, the Chamber points to a 2013 RAND Inc. report that determined “there is solid evidence to be optimistic” that healthier employee behavior will correlate directly to lower healthcare costs. More than 60 percent of respondents in that survey indicated that workplace wellness programs reduced their organizations’ healthcare costs, while also reporting an overall decrease in healthcare service utilization, which, in turn, reduced the healthcare cost burden.

While pointing out that each of these studies had limitations, “the majority show that well-designed wellness programs lead to an ROI ranging from $1.50 [for each dollar spent] to more than $3 invested over a timeframe of two to nine years,” the report notes.

Cost savings aside, the report’s authors tout the non-financial advantages of developing a winning wellness program.

“Even if one assumes for the sake of argument that any limitation of each particular study leads to an ROI of less than $1.50 to $3,” they write, “there are other benefits to these programs, such as increased job performance, overall well-being, and happy and thriving employees who contribute to business and community success.”

HR at Humana Learns by Listening

Earlier this week, I stumbled upon a press release summarizing a recent Employee Benefit Research Institute report.

In the 2015 Health and Voluntary Workplace Benefits Survey, the Washington-based organization found the percentage of workers reporting they are satisfied with the health benefits they currently receive has fallen from 74 percent to 66 percent between the years 2012 and 2015.

This is just a guess, but I have a hunch Humana Inc. employees were not among the 1,500 workers who EBRI polled for its study.

Last week, I attended a session at HRE’s Health & Benefits Leadership Conference, led by Humana’s Tim State, who serves as the Louisville, Ky.-based Medicare provider and health insurer’s vice president of human resources. Over the course of that informative hour, State discussed how HR leaders at Humana have embraced the “experience group” research methodology both to gain insight into the unmet health needs of its roughly 52,000 employees and to design a benefits program that helps them better meet those needs.

“It’s only from the associates’ point[s] of view that we can understand their health challenges,” he said. “It’s not about just having a Q&A session. It’s about having a real conversation around employees’ experience[s] with health benefits.”

Humana’s experience groups, according to State, typically consist of five to eight employees, who, along with a facilitator from the Humana HR function, convene for 60 to 90 minutes in an effort “to get across the idea that [our employees are] the experts [on their lives and health needs]. The facilitator really just kind of gets out of the way.”

Topics include obstacles that employees face on the path to better health, and, together, these experience groups and the HR team brainstorm ways to clear these hurdles.

What State and his colleagues in HR have heard from these experience groups has certainly been instructive, he said.

One employee, for instance, mentioned in a group session that work is actually “one of the biggest challenges to my health,” citing the combination of daily job-related stress and the often-sedentary lifestyle of the office employee.

Meanwhile, another female employee pointed out that the office dress code deterred her from walking more while at work, noting that going up a few flights of stairs isn’t always so easy in a pencil skirt.

State and his colleagues in HR have taken action in response to such comments, changing dress codes and introducing benefits that encourage prevention and provide more chronic-condition support, for instance.

Such adjustments—even small ones—have reaped almost immediate rewards, said State, adding that Humana’s experience groups have only been meeting for approximately 12 months.

For example, the organization has seen a 21-percent jump in employees’ use of preventive services offered by the company and has seen medication adherence increase by more than 10 percent. In addition, four out of 10 Humana employees report that they’ve improved their health by cutting down on physically risky behaviors, said State.

Making such changes has given employee engagement a boost as well, with Humana ranking in the top 10th percentile of the IBM Kenexa WorldNorms database for “world-class associate engagement” for the past four years, he added.

Such results—which have been realized in the space of one year— should be heartening for HR leaders at other large companies as well, said State.

“[Humana] is a Fortune 100, 50,000-plus employee organization,” he said. “Change can happen in an organization that size.”

Standing Desks: Fashion Over Function?

Ever since the first “standing” desks began appearing in the workplace in the mid 2000s, ergonomic experts have been debating the advantages they ostensibly bring to users.

Now, in a blow that could force even the most strident standing-desk supporter to sit down and re-evaluate his or her stand (puns clearly intended) on the issue, new meta-research finds there’s not a whole lot of science to back up the claims that using such desks are any better for you than traditional sit-down desks.

This recent analysis of 20 of the “best” studies done so far finds scant evidence that workplace interventions such as the sit-stand desk, the pedaling desk or even the treadmill desk will help you burn more calories or prevent or reverse the harm of sitting for hours on end.

“What we actually found is that most of it is, very much, just fashionable and not proven good for your health,” says Dr. Jos Verbeek, a health researcher at the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health.

“At present,” the study’s authors conclude, “there is very low to low-quality evidence that sit-stand desks may decrease workplace sitting between thirty minutes to two hours per day without having adverse effects at the short or medium term.”

The authors instead call for “cluster-randomized trials” with a sufficient sample size and long-term follow-up to determine the effectiveness of different types of interventions to reduce objectively measured sitting time at work.

Tip of the hat to NPR for posting this.

Back to the Future for Healthcare

Value-based care. ACOs. Narrow networks. Consumerism. These were just a few of topics explored in depth at last week’s National Business Group on Health’s Business Health Agenda 2016 conference at the J.W. Marriott in Washington. But if there was a single thread running through these sessions and many others during the two-and-a-half-day event, it was the increasingly important role technology is playing these days as a disrupting force.

Consider this: It wasn’t a huge surprise to see the NBGH and Xerox Human Resource Services (the former Buck Consultants) unveil the findings of a study titled Emerging Technology to Promote Employee Wellbeing, one of three research projects released at the event.

Looking at four key areas—gamification, mobile technologies, wearable sensors and social media—the study of 213 employers found significant growth in all four areas, with mobile, not surprisingly, leading the way. When the survey was last conducted three years ago, just 16 percent of employers were using mobile apps to engage employees. In this latest study, that number jumped to 50 percent.

The study also revealed that wearable technologies climbed from 16 percent to 34 percent over the three-year period.

Social networking, meanwhile, grew by 50 percent. “People are increasingly relying on others to get their information,” said Scott Marcotte, client technology leader for Xerox HR Services.

Also, as might be expected, mobile topped the list of future senior-leader priorities, with 50 percent of the respondents citing it as a prime focal point over the next year. Many also predicted that texting will be an increasingly important part of their strategy going forward.

As for barriers to adoption, the respondents cited competing business priorities, the lack of buy-in and support from senior management, the lack of a guaranteed return-on-investment (and ways to measure technology’s impact), and confidentiality and privacy as significant hurdles.

“Technology is also enabling employers to more successfully reach family members,” Marcotte pointed out. He noted that more and more of the companies he’s been working with are “creating hyper-personalized experiences for the spouse,” distinct of the employee.

Of course, you would think the Internet and mobile technology would represent today’s best ways to get educational resources into the home and involve the family, right? But at a session titled Leveraging Technology to Reach the Home, several speakers suggested the next frontier might actually be the television. (Though one conference session on narrow networks featured Back to the Future in its title, I couldn’t help but wonder if that phrase might have been better suited for this one.)

In an effort being led by Kaiser Permanente and Comcast, just out of beta, employees at a handful of employers (Comcast, IBM and Lowe’s Cos.) are beginning to deliver information directly into the home through TV apps.

“People are consuming video on their phones and other devices, but the fact is that many are still watching a lot of TV,” said Chris Stenzel, vice president of business development and innovation at Kaiser Permanente.

Participating with Stenzel on the panel were Marc Siry, vice president of strategic development at Comcast Corp.; Lydia Boyd Campbell, director of global integrated health services at IBM Americas; and Bob Ihrie, senior vice president of compensation and benefits at Lowe’s Cos. (Ihre, by the way, will be participating at two sessions at HRE’s Health & Benefits Leadership Conference later this month.)

All the panelists believe TV has the potential to make healthcare engaging and interesting for the entire family.

Maternity was selected as a pilot for the program because it represents a significant percentage of claims and is a time when families are really engaged in the health system. Videos are delivered to the employees’ TVs based on the stage of the pregnancy—so employees and their spouses/partners are delivered content that’s meaningful to them at that moment. The system knows what to deliver based on the due date, which is the only personal information that needs to be offered up to provide the just-in-time information. (Netflix-like binge watching, however, is still an option for those who prefer that approach.)

Television, of course, isn’t the only legacy device that’s attempting a comeback in the world of healthcare. Let’s not forget the 500-year-old watch, which many are predicting, thanks primarily to the Apple Watch, will someday be a major force in wearables.

That promise isn’t lost on vendors such The Vitality Group, which used the conference as a platform for officially announcing a program that enables “Active Rewards” members to fully fund their Apple Watches by meeting monthly targets over a 24-month period. (The founder and CEO of Vitality Group’s parent company, Discovery Group, Adrian Gore, also delivered the opening-keynote address at the NBGH event.)

Alan Pollard, CEO of The Vitality Group, told me the results of the program in South Africa have been “phenomenal,” with the early data revealing that Vitality members using Apple Watches are more physically active than those using any other fitness devices.

In the United States, early adopters of the new Vital program include Amgen, Lockton and DaVita HealthCare Partners. (The program is also available to consumers through Vitality’s arrangement with John Hancock.)

Putting Mental Well-being in a Better Place

The figure shared at this week’s IBI Forum in San Francisco is pretty jarring: Mental-health conditions are costing employers more than $80 billion in medical expenses and productivity losses per year. Yes, that’s right: $80 billion!

ThinkstockPhotos-462419617So I guess it’s not surprising that behavioral health was the focus of more than a few sessions at this year’s conference, which attracted around 500 people to the City by the Bay.

At the plenary session titled Behavioral Health and Its Impact on Productivity and the Workplace, Pacific Resources’ Vice President of Global Employer Solutions Patricia Purdy pointed out that employers still have a long way to go in their efforts to get their hands around the issue of mental well-being.

“When it comes to thinking about mental health and well-being, organizations are woefully behind,” Purdy said.

In her presentation, she referred to behavioral health as a “frontier,” adding that her word choice was “purposeful, because we’re still really on the cutting edge of helping organizations think about mental health and mental well-being.”

During a conference titled “The Productivity Summit: Improving Behavioral Health and Well-being in the Workplace,” held last May at the Carter Center in Atlanta, Purdy and others even devoted some time to talking about names, she said. “Do we call it behavioral health? Do we call it mental illness? Mental wellness? Mental well-being? Behavioral well-being?”

One of the challenges businesses face today, Purdy said, is coming up with a common lexicon that can be used to talk about the subject, in a way that’s “not threatening to employees.”

The panelists at the IBI session—which included Johnson & Johnson Chief Medical Officer Fikry Isaac; Georgetown University’s Robert Carr (director of its master’s program in health systems administration); and Sedgwick Senior Vice President of Corporate Development, M&A and Healthcare Kimberly George—also touched on making the business case for mental-health investment.

Purdy noted that people at the Carter Center summit said more data is needed to build the business case. But, she added, the truth is there’s already “scads and scads of data.”

The problem, she explained, isn’t that companies don’t have the data; it’s whether or not they can translate that data into the language of the business—so business leaders “understand what we’re talking about.”

As J&J’s Isaac put it, those in the profession need be able to explain to business leaders what’s in it for them and why health, including behavior health, matters.

Presenters also made the case for integrating mental health into other processes. Georgetown’s Carr pointed out, for example, that mental well-being is integrated into GSK’s annual employee survey. (Carr retired from the pharma company in 2014.)

The company, for instance, wanted to know if employees had the resources they needed, he said.

Also, at GSK, one of the six key leadership expectations is to “release energy in others,” he said, adding that the company helps those leaders lacking in this area to build this competency.

Behavioral health was nowhere to be found in the title of a breakout session later that morning, but it was nevertheless an important part of the discussion. The session, titled A Report from the Front Lines of Mindfulness-Based Programs: Four Years of Data from More than 100 Employers, looked at the benefits of mindfulness through the lens of a pioneering employer in this area: Aetna Inc.

As Aetna Wellness Program Strategy Lead Cheryl Jones explained, “mindfulness is about being in the present moment—paying attention to what’s happening around you in an open way.”

Since Aetna launched its program back in 2009, Jones said, it has seen a number of positive results, including a significant drop in employee stress levels.

Aetna—which uses eMindful as a vendor—also enjoys a remarkable participation rate: 13,000 of its 50,000 workers. (That compares to an average of 17 percent across all eMindful clients, reported co-presenter and eMindful CEO Kelley McGabe Ruff.)

Of course, having a CEO who is very publicly passionate about mindfulness doesn’t hurt. As some of you may be aware, Aetna CEO Mark Bertolini credits mindfulness and yoga with helping him manage his pain, following a skiing accident that almost took his life in 2004.

“Recovery is a state of mind,” he told a morning news show last year. “It’s not just a physical practice, and … if you get your mind in the right place, you can do almost anything [while] managing pain.”

Jones told the audience that Bertolini plans to announce Aetna’s next step in its mindfulness journey at next week’s Wisdom 2.0 conference in San Francisco. She said it will involve “creating a more mindful culture.” Guess we’ll have to wait until then for the specifics.

CFOs Not Just Focused on Numbers

You might think that controlling costs is the primary concern of the nation’s chief financial officers when it comes to health benefits, but a new survey from the Integrated Benefits Institute reveals otherwise.

HCSC Social-179275875The survey, which polled 345 CFOs and other senior finance executives at some of the largest U.S. companies, shows that while cost management is a major concern, other goals also rank high — including using health benefits to attract and keep top performers and helping employees better manage their health. The survey also illustrates the big impact the Affordable Care Act has had on corporate health benefits.

Nearly half (44 percent) of the respondents cited controlling costs as the most important of their company’s top five goals for health and related benefits. However, almost as many (36 percent) selected other goals as the most important, including attracting, retaining and satisfying talent (15 percent), helping employees become better healthcare consumers (10 percent), helping enrollees become healthier (9 percent), and improving workforce productivity (2 percent).

The survey found that 24 percent of CFOs said the finance function’s role in benefits decision-making has expanded since the ACA’s passage, compared to only 5 percent who said it has shrunk since then. Cost-sharing is also on the rise since the ACA: About half the CFOs said their company is increasing its offerings of high-deductible healthcare plans for employees and their dependents and raising premium shares and out-of-pocket expenses.

The ACA has also spurred more companies to up their wellness game: More than half the CFOs said their company has enhanced its health and well-being programs since the law was enacted and more than one-third enhanced incentives for adopting healthy lifestyles and wellness-program participation.

Interestingly, CFOs who said their companies place great importance on attracting and retaining talent and improving productivity said their organizations were less likely to shift healthcare costs to employees.

The survey results demonstrate that CFOs understand the importance of health-management strategies, says IBI President Dr. Thomas Parry:

These findings go against the popular notion that CFOs demand a hard ROI from health promotion programs, and that companies are scrambling for the cheapest options. If we want to understand where companies are going with health benefits, we need to think of them within the context of business strategies beyond cutting costs.

Parry and two CFO panelists will discuss the role of health and benefits at the upcoming Health & Benefits Leadership Conference on April 1 in Las Vegas.