Wellness Programs May Cut Hospitalizations, But Not Costs
March 7—Wellness programs in the workplace may not reduce healthcare costs or be free of health-based discrimination, as intended by Affordable Care Act tenets, according to the results of two studies published in Health Affairs.
One study examined the effectiveness of a St. Louis hospital system’s wellness program. The hospital system offered employees an incentive to participate: Those who took part were eligible to enroll in the health system’s most generous health plan. The intervention was associated with a 41 percent decrease in hospitalizations for conditions targeted by the wellness program, but no significant decrease in other hospitalizations.
In addition, the study found reductions in inpatient costs, but similar increases in non-inpatient costs. Therefore, although the program cut some hospitalizations, the researchers concluded it did not save the employer money in the short term.
The other study found little evidence that wellness programs can easily save costs through health improvement without being discriminatory. In reviewing results of randomized controlled trials, the researchers found evidence instead that savings to employers may come from cost shifting, with the most vulnerable employees—low-income employees with significant health risks—probably bearing greater costs that in effect subsidize their healthier colleagues.
Publication Date: Thursday, March 07, 2013