Last week, I visited local employers in Springfield and we discussed their worksite wellness initiatives – specifically the opportunities and challenges related to establishing cost-effective and sustainable wellness programs with the dual aims of reducing premium costs and improving their employees’ health.
First, I met with representatives from the city’s two largest employers – Big Y Foods, Inc. and Smith & Wesson. These companies employ about 9,000 and 14,000 people, respectively. Faced with rising health care costs, both companies decided to use worksite wellness programs as a tool to promote the well-being and health of their employees, increase productivity, and ultimately reduce costs. While each company has implemented their objectives differently, the two programs do share a few commonalities, such as making campuses smoke-free, hosting educational health fairs, providing healthy food options, and incentivizing preventative care.
Next, I presented to a diverse group of leading Springfield employers representing real estate, health care, manufacturing, and insurance industries regarding health care costs in the Commonwealth and discussed ideas to mitigate the trend. Some of the employers in this meeting – mostly representing small businesses - noted the difficulty of implementing worksite wellness programs without the same resources available to larger companies. Fortunately, both the Governor and the Massachusetts Legislature demonstrated their commitment to this issue through passage of Chapter 288 of the Acts of 2010 (An Act to Promote Cost Containment, Transparency and Efficiency in the Provision of Quality Health Insurance for Individuals and Small Businesses).
Under the new law, not only will small companies be allowed to form purchasing cooperatives, the Commonwealth Health Insurance Connector Authority and the Department of Public Health will work together to develop a program that provides assistance to small employers that are starting wellness programs. More importantly, employers that are eligible will be provided with a 5 percent annual subsidy from the Connector for implementing a worksite wellness program. This is a very important step towards improving the overall health and wellness of Massachusetts residents and offering employers relief from health care costs.
I encourage Massachusetts small business owners to learn more about the provisions outlined in the new law. To read Chapter 288, please click here.