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wellness digest—week of july 25

August 2, 2011

in wellness digest

a roundup of last week’s news that caught my interest.

1. bill would allow consumers to keep FSA funds

flexible spending accounts are often overlooked and undervalued vehicles for saving money on health care expenses, thanks largely to one rule in the plan—the use-it-or-lose-it rule. this rule requires that employees forfeit any unused funds in their account at the end of a health year and scares off many would-be participants. now, two state senators propose eliminating it.

“Sens. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) introduced the Medical Flexible Spending Account Improvement Act, S. 1404, that would allow consumers to pay taxes on and withdraw their remaining funds from their FSAs.”

2. uncommon knowledge: the value of health assessment data

health assessments or health risk assessments form the foundation of many corporate wellness programs, particularly as a way to understand the population’s health and to tip individuals into action. i’d like to underscore one vital design element that this article calls out, and that’s integrating the assessment tool with all other information and services. (note: the use of bold below is mine.)

“The health assessment provides a wealth of data cost-effectively that can be used to tailor the wellness experience to each individual. This includes the participant’s personal health portal, where health assessment data can be used to align content, tools and guidance with the individual’s health risks, health conditions and readiness to change. Individuals can be triaged into program components that are best suited to improving their health based on their risks, conditions, self-efficacy, barriers to change and other relevant data collected in the health assessment.”

3. new york’s calorie counting

companies considering how to improve their cafeteria and vending machine offerings will be interested in the findings from this study on calorie labeling. the impact on individual choice was limited and varied, but as the economist notes, the impact on businesses may be more far-reaching.

“The power of the BMJ study, then, may be to highlight how great an effect the restaurants themselves have on consumer choice. Calorie labels don’t only work through changing customer behaviour; they can also affect restaurant tactics, encouraging restaurants to offer more low-calorie foods or to promote those foods more strongly.”

4. trim staff, fat profits?

another economist article, this one’s like a college survey course. it breezes through a few examples of companies using financial sweeteners to motivate healthy behaviors, trots out the known measurement shortcomings and departs with a warning shot about the likely migration to sticks over carrots.

“In future, some firms may stop offering health insurance, dumping employees on new state exchanges created by Barack Obama’s health law. Those who continue to offer insurance may try controversial means to keep it affordable. A growing number of Healthways’s clients want to use sticks as well as carrots, says Dr Pope. At Safeway, a grocery chain, the premium that employees pay for their health insurance falls if they keep their weight and cholesterol under control. In other words, the unhealthy are penalised. GE first offered incentives to employees who stopped smoking; now those who still smoke must pay $650 more for their health insurance. Companies may be nudging now, but in future they may shove.”

5. virgin healthmiles announces summer ’11 release, unveils integrated incentives

virgin healthmiles, who offers a pay-for-prevention™ approach to wellness, announced a summer ’11 product release this week that’s designed to help employers better integrate and market their wellness programs, track their performance, and expand eligibility and access globally.

“Virgin HealthMiles Summer ’11 delivers a range of new capabilities to help you address these two key issues:

  • how to drive higher awareness, consideration and adoption of your existing employee health and wellness programs;
  • and, how to more easily and accurately measure the impact of programs on your employees’ health and productivity.”

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