EBRI Issue Brief

Health Promotion and Disease Prevention: A Look at Demand Management Programs

Sep 1, 1996 16  pages


  • This Issue Brief describes employers' efforts to contain health expenditures through demand management programs. These programs are designed to reduce utilization by focusing on disease prevention and health promotion. Demand management includes work site health promotion, wellness programs, and access management. Work site health promotion is a comprehensive approach to improving health and includes awareness, health education, behavioral change, and organizational health initiatives. Wellness programs usually include stress management, smoking cessation, weight management, back care, health screenings, nutrition education, work place safety, prenatal and well baby care, CPR and first aid classes, and employee assistance programs (EAPs). These programs are often viewed positively by workers and can have long-term benefits for employers above and beyond health care cost containment. Demand management can benefit employers by increasing productivity, employee retention, and employee morale and by reducing turnover, absenteeism, future medical claims, and ultimately expenditures on health care.
  • Even though a growing number of employers are offering wellness programs, only 37 percent of full-time workers employed in medium and large private establishments were eligible for wellness programs by 1993. However, a recent survey found that 88 percent of major employers have introduced some form of health promotion, disease prevention, or early intervention initiative to encourage healthy lifestyles among their salaried employees.
  • Distinctions must be drawn between short- and long-term strategies. Demand management can be thought of as a short-term strategy when the focus of the program is on creating more appropriate and efficient health care utilization. Disease prevention is characterized by longer-term health improvement objectives. Whether the purpose is to reduce utilization in the short term or in the long term, the ultimate goal remains the same: to reduce health care expenditures while improving overall health. This goal can be achieved through the use of health risk appraisals, organizational health risk appraisals, high risk programs, awareness programs, medical call centers, return to work programs, EAPs, and smoking cessation programs.
  • Studies of a health promotion program's cost effectiveness must disentangle the effects of many competing factors on cost effectiveness. For example, a health risk appraisal program may identify health problems of which the patient and the health care provider were unaware, resulting in the treatment of these health problems. At the same time, the employer may have switched from a nonmanaged pharmaceutical program to a managed program with incentives for participants to utilize generic and/or mail order drugs. As a result, when evaluating a health promotion program, the long-run impact on the program's cost effectiveness is most important.