Wellness Programs Can Be Costly, But Have Proven Successful At One Corporation

Wellness and prevention programs, part of the health care legislation moving through Congress, are not easy to implement but at least one corporation says they are cost-effective.

The Chicago Tribune/The Seattle Times reports that while health care legislation in Congress includes wellness and prevention funding, "there's no easy or cheap way to transform an ailing system into one that promotes health and wellness. At every level, from the way doctors are trained to the way they're reimbursed, the importance of prevention is overshadowed by a focus on treating illness and a reliance on expensive medical technologies and procedures." Extensive research has documented the significant health improvements that would result from more Americans exercising, losing weight and smoking. But "[l]ess clear is the effect on health-care costs. Although some forms of prevention save money, others require a significant upfront investment and can prompt increased spending, said Louise Russell, chair of the division of health policy at Rutgers University." The Tribune/Times highlights three forms of prevention (Deardorff and Graham, 10/30).

Kaiser Health News interviews Dr. Fikry Isaac, who runs the corporate wellness program at Johnson & Johnson. "Studies have shown the program -- called 'Live for Life' -- has resulted in significant improvements in employee health as well as a reduction in company health care costs." Isaac describes what makes the Johnson & Johnson program successful, "and how corporate wellness could be incorporated into the current effort to overhaul the nation's health system." Isaac says he "would like to see that there is something in the reform bills encouraging employers -- whether small, medium-size or large -- to really address the culture of health within their population." In particular, he says, employers might "get some sort of a tax credit" if they implement a health and wellness program for workers (Gold, 10/30).

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