Northeast Ohio employers are increasingly using fitness reimbursement programs to save healthcare costs in the long run. These programs reimburse employees (and sometimes covered family members) for costs incurred in engaging in healthy activities on the theory that regular physical activity can protect against diseases such as cancer, heart disease and high blood pressure as well as contribute to healthy bones, muscles, joints and improved mental health.

In a recent survey of 23 Northeast Ohio companies, the Employers Resource Council (ERC) reports that employers are reimbursing for a variety of healthy activities, including:

  • Membership to fitness center (83%)
  • Weight loss programs (39%)
  • Fitness classes (30%)
  • Community health programs (13%)
  • Personal trainer (9%)
  • Exercise equipment purchase (9%)

ERC reports that the average amount of reimbursement is $178.

While research on the impact of health promotion programs on productivity-related measures such as absenteeism, disability, turnover, and retention has been quite limited, preliminary studies are reveal that participation in a reimbursement-based health promotion program had a significant impact on short-term disability use. For example, the College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine reports that employees receiving STD who were participants in a health promotion program used an average of 6 fewer net disability days than similar employees receiving STD who were not participants in a program. The analyses also showed that average net STD days for non-participants significantly increased during the study period. From this standpoint alone, employers should appreciate the return-on-investment in the long-term.

We encourage wellness programs not only for their cost-saving benefits, but also for the positive affect on employee productivity and morale. Physically and mentally healthy employees are good for the bottom line.