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Affordable Care Act to provide wellness program stimulus

The United States Department of Health & Human Services recently announced that as part of the Affordable Care Act, it will be making $10 million in funding available to help businesses establish corporate health and wellness programs.

Approximately 100 employers across seven regions of the county will be provided with a comprehensive employee wellness program intended to improve workers' health and reduce healthcare costs to businesses.

Employers will be chosen from a pool of applicants based on several factors including leadership support, baseline data and willingness to collaborate with other participants in their region. Those who already have a corporate health program in place will not be permitted to enter, and organizations with more than 500 full-time employees will be required to contribute $50,000 in matching funds in order to be considered.

The ACA is projected to provide $200 million in funding for comprehensive wellness programs over time.

The city of Milwaukee recently took the initiative to launch its own employee health program, according to WITI-TV. Nearly 90 percent of city employees eligible to take part in the program did so, partly in response to the incentive of lower insurance payments.

Workers looking to join the program had to fill out an online questionnaire about their current health and lifestyle, undergo a series of tests to establish a baseline analysis, meet with a healthcare adviser to discuss their results and receive recommendations for improvement.

According to Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, a common finding of the preliminary health screenings was that many employees were overweight, but one worker's choice to undergo the testing may have been lifesaving.

"We had, for example, an employee who in the course of this analysis learned that (he or she) had pancreatic cancer. (This) allowed … that employee to start getting healthcare to treat that pancreatic cancer right away," Barrett told the news source.

Numerous studies indicate that corporate health and wellness programs are an effective solution for companies looking to reduce healthcare costs without having to decrease benefits. However, a recent study by Society for Human Resource Management indicates that the number of organizations offering such programs has plateaued around 59 percent for the fifth consecutive year – a situation initiatives such as the Affordable Care Act aim to combat.