Wellness is key to lower health care costs

Higher health care costs and the increased public awareness of health care issues, brought about by the debate surrounding the Obama administration’s health care reform policies, make now an ideal time for companies to focus on wellness, according to Dr. Thomas Van Gilder, Wisconsin market vice president and medical officer at Humana.

“More people are becoming more and more conscious about what health care costs,” Van Gilder said. “It’s a great opportunity for employers to start engaging employees out ahead of (health care) reform. Get them thinking about the fact that a good wellness program isn’t a program at all. It’s a lifestyle change.”

The workforce today consists of multiple generations. Many in the large baby boom generation is getting to the point now where they have begun to take care of their 80- and 90-year old parents.

“Now is the time when more of them start to realize the choices they make now have a long-term impact on their health in the future,” he said. “The family members they are taking care of now might be suffering some of the consequences of their lifestyle choices. More and more they want to avoid that. They see where they could be headed.”

A good workplace wellness program starts with the little things, Van Gilder said.

“But it has to extend beyond that. It has to be all encompassing and focus on the total well-being of the employees,” he said.

There has to be a culture of wellness established in order for a workforce wellness program to be completely successful, he said.

While the workplace has some obvious points of engagement, and physical wellness is an easy target for a lot of employers, health goes far beyond that, Van Gilder said.

“Healthy lifestyles mean more than just eating right and losing weight,” he said. “It’s important for employers to realize that health also means stress reduction, feeling financially secure and comfortable, and even having a sense of purpose. There’s a mental aspect to wellness that sometimes doesn’t receive the attention it should.”

Keeping an all-encompassing focus to a wellness program will yield better results and help shift the culture of the workplace to one that’s healthier, Van Gilder said.

“Employers should strive to make wellness within their workplace something more than just a fad,” he said. “It shouldn’t be just a kickoff to a 12 week program, where once it’s over everyone goes back to their ordinary lives. It should be a kickoff to a lifestyle change, a sustainable lifestyle change.”

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