HDHPs and Wellness Plans

High deductible health plans (HDHPs) can be great for employees. The premium savings mean more money in their paychecks. Pairing an HDHP with a Health Savings Account (HSA), can offer another tax-advantaged means of saving. 

But when employees have significant medical events, many find themselves scrambling to meet their deductible costs, or straining their finances as they reach their out-of-pocket maximum. Problems can be compounded for employees who experience significant medical events for multiple plan years in a row. Suddenly, the bills that come with the HDHP can erode the premium benefits and their health plan becomes a benefit that does not seem very beneficial.

Offering a wellness program is one way employers can help employees enrolled in an HDHP to manage their healthcare costs. Wellness programs can help employers reduce their benefit costs too. These programs can take many forms, so thoughtful analysis is needed to determine what features will best help both employers and their employees lower overall healthcare spending. 

One wellness plan feature that can be a great starting point is a health risk assessment. This assessment can ask questions about chronic diseases, family medical history, emotional and mental health, use of health preventative screenings, and various lifestyle factors. Ideally, in addition to completing a health risk assessment, employees will also participate in a basic biometric screening that takes measurements of blood pressure, blood sugar, and body mass. 

Employers can use data from these assessments to make further enhancements to their wellness program, based on the needs of their employees. That way employers offer the wellness program features that most appropriately address employee health problems. 

For example, if employees have generally high body mass indexes, weight-loss programs or payments of health club dues could be incorporated into the wellness program to help in weight management. If employees indicate they do not get preventative screenings, flu shots or other vaccinations might be a good addition to the wellness program to help mitigate preventative illnesses and reduce doctor visits and treatments associated with those illnesses. 

Finally, employers will also want to consider how to properly incentivize employees to participate in the wellness program. Voluntary completion of a health risk assessment might not return many responses, but the data is very valuable to employers. Employers will want to reward employees for participation, or impose penalties for non-participation in order to drive use of the wellness plan and better financial results for all.