First Five Years of Employee Wellness Program Saves County $46 Million

In the first five years of King County’s employee wellness program, from 2007 to 2011, the county spent $15 million on the program and saved $46 million. King County, Washington, launched its employee wellness program, “Healthy Incentives Program,” in 2006, in response to rising health care costs at 9.8 percent from 2001 to 2005.

About half of all U.S. employers offer wellness promotion programs, according to a Workplace Wellness Study Report by Rand Corporation.  King County’s program demonstrates that an employee wellness program can be effective in decreasing health care cost and improving participants’ health and wellness.

King County saw 90 percent employee participation in the first five years.

One of the factors contributing to the Healthy Incentives Programs’ success is the education and outreach effort. According to Stateline, King County spent nearly $7 million in the first two years for education and outreach efforts. The county employs six full-time employees to work solely on education and outreach.

Employees and their spouses participating in the program pay fewer out-of-pocket expenses. Participation in the program starts with filling out a health risk assessment; employees can cut $200 from their $500 deductible just by filling out the health assessment form.

The health risk assessment asks employees about their lifestyle behaviors and health risk factors; without the screening and/or the completion of the assessment, it is impossible to identify those employees who would benefit from intervention.

Next, based on the employees’ assessment and their goals, employees choose and complete a multi-week individual action plan. King County has nine different action plans available for participants. One of the individual action plans is “Quit for Life”; this action plan is for employees who wish to quit smoking. Completion of an individual action plan leads to an additional $200 off a participant’s deductible. For more information on the individual action plans, click here. 

In 2010, the program set incentives for participants to buy generic prescriptions over name-brand prescriptions. The incentive worked by discounting the co-pay for generic drugs while increasing the co-pay for name-brand drugs. By 2011, employees had saved $1 million and the county had saved $2.4 million from this incentive. 

The success of King County’s program can be contributed to the county linking high financial incentives to the effort participants put into the program. Harvard University has awarded the county an innovation award for the program.