By Mary Elizabeth Dallas
MONDAY, Jan. 6, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Wellness programs in the workplace help cut health care costs and reduce hospital admissions for employees with chronic illnesses, a new study suggests.
The researchers said, however, that workplace wellness programs that focused mostly on adopting a healthier lifestyle have less dramatic results.
"While workplace wellness programs have the potential to reduce health risks and cut health care spending, employers and policymakers should not take for granted that the lifestyle management components of the programs can reduce costs or lead to savings overall," study senior author Dr. Soeren Mattke, a senior natural scientist at RAND Corp., a nonprofit research organization, said in a news release.
The study examined PepsiCo's Healthy Living wellness program over the course of seven years. Among the program components are health risk assessments and on-site wellness events. The company's wellness program also provides help with disease and lifestyle management, as well as a hotline that provides advice from a nurse.
The researchers assessed the experience of more than 67,000 employees who were eligible for the disease- and lifestyle-management programs.
The study, published in the January issue of the journal Health Affairs, found that the disease-management program alone resulted in a cost reduction of $136 per month and a 29 percent drop in hospital admissions among its participants. The researchers said every $1 invested in the wellness program saved $3.78 in health care costs.
The employees who participated in both the disease- and lifestyle-management program saved $160 each month. Hospital admissions among this group fell by 66 percent.
Although those who participated in the lifestyle-management program missed work less often, the program did not have a significant effect on health care costs.
"The PepsiCo program provides a substantial return for the investment made in helping employees manage chronic illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease," Mattke said. "But the lifestyle-management component of the program, while delivering benefits, did not provide more savings than it cost to offer."
The researchers said it's usually easier to cut costs among those who spend more. Workers in the disease-management program who also participated in the lifestyle-management program had much higher savings.
Targeting lifestyle programs to those employees could improve their cost-saving benefit, the researchers said.
Workplace health and wellness programs have become increasingly common in the United States. The federal Affordable Care Act was designed to promote these programs in an attempt to reduce health care costs.