More employers continue to adopt workplace health plans, but recent evidence suggests that these plans may not work.
In 2019, more than 84% of large companies provided employees with health plans as benefits. According to data from the Caesars Family Foundation. The companies that provide these programs have raised billions of dollars, promising everything from improving results to reducing healthcare spending, but there is little evidence.
A study recently published in “Health Affairs” Pour cold water on these statements. A randomized controlled trial of a workplace health program found that after three years, there was no significant difference between employees who participated in the program and employees who did not participate in health outcomes, health care expenditures, or retention rates.
The study’s authors, Zirui Song of Harvard University and Katherine Baicker of the University of Chicago, wrote that the results may “reduce expectations for significant improvements in health outcomes or financial returns on health plan investments”.
The researchers compared 25 workplaces that accepted the program with 135 workplaces that did not accept the program. They are all affiliated with BJ’s Wholesale Club, a large warehouse retail company.
Employees participating in the program went through 12 modules, including cooking demonstrations, fitness challenges, and meditation instruction. Three years later, more employees in the workplaces that provided the program reported better health behaviors, such as regular exercise or active weight control. However, there was no significant difference between the participating sites and the control group in terms of medical expenditure, medical care use, absenteeism or work performance.
Researchers build on a Research before 2019 This produced similar results. BJ’s Wholesale Club employees who participated in the program for 18 months reported better health behaviors, but there were no differences in results or expenditures. Compared with three years, the improvement in health behaviors during the 18-month period was also similar.
The study has some limitations. The researchers pointed out that a larger sample size also helps measure health care expenditure results. Not all participants were employed throughout the study period.
It is also important to note that not all employees who receive a health plan actually use it. Approximately 28% of the employees participating in the site completed at least one module, and some of them received gift cards ranging from $25 to $50 as a reward.
Despite the thought-provoking numbers, the adoption of workplace health programs shows no signs of slowing down. Many employers may continue to provide them as an allowance.
Whether companies find value in these plans depends on what they want from these plans, Song and Baike Write in the accompanying editorial In the Washington Post.
“Employees seem to value such benefits and have raised awareness of the importance of healthy behaviors and are working to implement them. If employers seek to increase employee-valued benefits (or attract employees who value these benefits), these programs may be worthwhile ,” they wrote. “But if the goal is to save money by reducing medical expenses and absenteeism, or to improve chronic physical health, then the evidence so far is insufficient.”
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