0 Comments | Dec 04, 2010

Ho Ho HOpen Enrollment Season

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For many in the human resources profession, the holiday season heralds more than just good tidings. It also rings in the start of planning for the spring employee benefits program open enrollment season. So human resources employee benefits folks often have a full plate to go along with their full stockings.

The game has changed quite a bit this year with the passing of new healthcare legislation. Employee healthcare costs are rising at even steeper rates (12% per year, on average, for the last five years. Read more here), forcing some companies to drop medical benefits entirely from their employee benefit packages. Hopefully yours isn’t among them, as robust employee benefits related to health/wellness always top of the list of best practices for employee retention.

Because healthcare costs are rising at four times the average inflation rate over the past five years, with an aging and increasingly overweight and under-active employee population, benefits managers are looking for ways to reduce healthcare demand.  Employee wellness benefit programs are a rapidly growing market segment as a result.  Many employers are relatively inexperienced with employee health and wellness programs, and when combined with the wide variety of wellness benefits available today, it can be a confusing environment.  There’s no shortage of employee wellness program ideas, but selecting the right suite of benefits for your employee pool can be challenging.

The best advice is this:  target the highest healthcare cost drivers first.  That may sound obvious, but relatively few companies have it quite right when it comes to implementing employee wellness benefit programs that actually have an impact on the most important factors adding to healthcare costs.

What are those factors?  Most employee benefits related to health and wellness focus on things like obesity, smoking, hypertension, and abnormal blood sugar levels.  It’s true that those conditions do contribute to rising healthcare costs.  But they don’t contribute nearly as much as most people think, and they don’t even come close to matching the two biggest contributors to rising health insurance costs:  stress and depression.

Stress contributes to all five leading causes of employee death, and costs businesses over $300 billion every year (watch the 2-minute video below for more).  Over one million employees miss work every day due to a stress-related condition, and three out of four employees call their jobs either “stressful” or “very stressful.”  Burnout is a very real danger, and stress contributes to rising employee turnover rates (read more in an employee turnover white paper here).

Depression is even more expensive than a heart attack, and costs twice as much as diabetes, three times more than employee obesity, four times more than smoking, and six times more than high blood pressure.  Those are surprising figures.

It’s clear that unless your employee wellness benefit programs are designed to reduce employee stress and depression risks, you’re probably paying more in healthcare expenses than you should.  There’s significant research that supports a very inexpensive but highly effective stress and depression mitigation program that doesn’t suffer from the usual ERISA and GINA regulatory red tape:  Vacation Wellness™.  The premise is simple.  Vacation Wellness™ allows employee members to take 4- and 5-star destination vacations at up to 70% percent discounts.  The program offers over 400 trips per year, each trip planned by professional travel agents, available for employee members to click and order online at significant discounts over the next-best online price.

How can vacations possibly help control rising healthcare costs?  The research is clear:

  • Men who vacation regularly are at 32% lower risk of heart attack.
  • Women who vacation regularly are 53% less likely to suffer a heart attack.
  • Regular vacationers are 2 to 3 times less likely to suffer from depression.
  • Employees who take yearly vacations (or more frequent) are 8 times less likely to die prematurely.

Here’s another gift under the benefits tree:  popular employee wellness programs are a powerful retention tool.  Among employees who have a positive impression of your wellness benefits, 64% will remain with your company for the next five years or more (more on benefits and best practices for employee retention here).  That’s another compelling reason to look closely at Vacation Wellness™ and other highly popular employee wellness programs, as it can cost upwards of three times the position’s annual salary and benefits cost to replace a departing employee.

There’s plenty to consider as you get ready for next year’s open enrollment process.  But not all the news is bad.  While the cost of “sick care” is rising precipitously, it’s never been easier to find affordable prevention for the two most ominous healthcare expenses.

So we’ll see you on the beach?  We’re sure Santa will know where to find you…

Happy holidays!