Make ‘Wellness’ Plan Appealing

The timing could not have been better: Last week, Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation officials stopped in Steubenville to promote what amounts to a “wellness” program for many working people in the Buckeye State.

At about the same time, a similar program in West Virginia suffered a setback. Those involved in that initiative, by West Virginia’s Public Employees Insurance Agency, ought to look at the Ohio program for guidance in moving forward.

PEIA officials had proposed a campaign by which enrollees could participate in a multifaceted effort to keep themselves healthier. Among aspects of the program were regular health monitoring, healthy diets and exercise.

Many of the same types of wellness activities are being promoted by the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation, as explained in Steubenville.

Ohio’s “Better You, Better Ohio!” campaign targets employees in small businesses such as construction, manufacturing and agriculture, where on-the-job injuries are more common. The idea is to encourage healthier lifestyles to reduce workplace injuries. That will save money for the workers’ compensation system — and could for the PEIA, too.

But the two programs differed in a key respect. The Ohio campaign uses purely an incentive strategy. Participants can receive $75 gift cards for undergoing health screenings.

PEIA officials tried both the carrot and the stick. Participants in their program could qualify for rewards — but those chosing not to be involved were to be charged $300 a year in higher health insurance premiums.

After some public school teachers complained about the PEIA plan, Gov. Jim Justice asked the agency to withdraw the penalty system. PEIA officials seemed agreeable to that.

One can argue the pros and cons of penalties forever. Some private-sector insurance plans use them to encourage people to sign up for wellness programs.

But apparently, that has been ruled out in West Virginia. Now, PEIA officials should look at campaigns such as Ohio’s, in efforts to provide incentives clearly needed to encourage people to participate voluntarily in “wellness.”