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As the cost of health care continues to skyrocket, HR professionals and their employers are constantly searching for new ways to keep costs under control and as manageable as possible.  An employer- sponsored wellness program is one way to do this.  Preventive health and wellness benefits are designed to help maintain or improve employees’ behavior in order to achieve better health, reduce health risks and have more productive employees.  According to the Society of Human Resource Management’s 2011 Employee Benefits research report, 75 percent of companies provided wellness resources and information, and 60 percent of organizations offered wellness programs.  A four-year study of employer group wellness programs found that health care costs rose at a 15 percent slower rate among wellness program participants when employers consistently offered a wellness program.  

A major component of a successful wellness program is a smoking cessation program.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirm that smoking remains the number one preventable cause of death in the United States. According to a 2007 study in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine, clinical interventions to reduce smoking provide a positive return on investment within two to three years for health plans and immediate savings for employers.  Although many companies have started to shift the increase of insurance premiums to employees who smoke, it is a better long-term investment to provide cessation services to help an employee quit.  Smoking is an extremely addictive behavior and quitting is enormously difficult.  In 2009, approximately 20.6 percent (46.6 million) of Americans over the age of 18 were current smokers.  A recently published study from the CDC found that in 2010 nearly 70 percent of those who smoke said they wanted to quit and 52 percent tried to quit, but only six percent were successful.  If employers were more supportive in helping their employees quit, maybe we can see this number increase while insurance cost decrease. 

Even if a robust employer-sponsored wellness program is not yet being offered in your organization, employers should definitely consider implementing a smoking cessation program.  Offering cessation services to employees is not a huge burden to employers and the benefits far out weight the cost.  In 2006, Legacy worked with Milliman® to publish “Covering Smoking Cessation as a Health Benefit: A Case for Employers.” The report found that smoking adds well over $165 billion to health care and disability cost each year and aimed to provide information so employers can make informed choices based on the cost and benefits of smoking cessation programs, in comparison to other routinely provided benefits.  The CDC estimates that of the $165 billion health-related costs attributable to smoking, and $92 billion are attributed to lost productivity resulting from smoking attributable diseases. 

According to evidence-based medical studies, effective smoking cessation programs combine the following elements:
• Covering pharmacological therapy
• Supportive services such as quitlines, advice sessions in individual or group therapy sessions
• Encourage employee health risk appraisals and tobacco counseling from their physician and
• Eliminating co-pays for cessation-related expenses.

Employers can utilize their current benefits such as the Employee Assistant Program (EAP) by adding a smoking cessation component to the program.  Companies can also provide access to Legacy’s BecomeAnEx program, a FREE online program that helps people to re-learn life without cigarettes and quit smoking. 

The CEO Cancer Gold Standard, of which Legacy is an accredited member, is a comprehensive workplace-based initiative designed to fight cancer.  CEO Cancer Gold Standard companies are committed to incorporating prevention and wellness opportunities into their organizations’ culture.  The First Pillar in the CEO Cancer Gold Standard is Tobacco Use (Risk Reduction).  The Gold Standard is to support workplace tobacco-free policies encouraging smokers to quit and eliminating secondhand smoke in the workplace, provide tobacco cessation treatments, such as over the counter quit aids, prescription medication, and counseling.  Providing coverage for these treatments increases quit rates, and each employee who quits smoking saves his or her employer an estimated $1,300 per year.    

From an HR perspective, employees are the heart and soul of any organization, so we should commit to help them maintain or achieve better health.  Employers should provide a wellness program for employees to include weight management, smoking cessation, health risk assessments and more, but if an entire wellness program is not possible, at least consider providing a smoking cessation program.  Supporting smokers in their quest to quit will be the greatest return on investment an organization can make as it leads to increased productivity, lower healthcare cost, and most of all, better overall health of the company’s greatest assets – your valued employees!

Anna M. Spriggs, SPHR
Vice President, Human Resources

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