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More businesses invest in wellness programs in effort to lower health care costs

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La Crosse, WI (WXOW) -

In Wisconsin, 12% of health care dollars are spent on obesity-related issues, just above the national average of 8%. To fight rising health care costs, businesses are more frequently investing in wellness programs as preventative measures. There's no doubt exercise has major health benefits, but does it have benefit for business too?

La Crosse based company Logistics Health Incorporated says yes.

"Last year, the average number of sick days across all employees was less than 2," said LHI Founder Don Weber.

Over 10 years ago, LHI invested in a wellness program that's right on their downtown campus through Riverside Corporate Wellness. The idea was that encouraging a healthy lifestyle would save health care costs in the long run, which often was one of their biggest expenses.

"Our premiums in 2015, 2016, 2017 have gone down a little over 26% when the average increase in the region had gone up 45%," Weber said.

Convenience of location is one thing, but what makes it stick according to Weber is allowing time in the day to use it and opening it to more than just the employees.

"To change the culture, you have to work with the whole family," Weber said. "...so we open this up not just for employees, but their families."

Not every business can afford to invest in a program quite like that but the idea behind those programs is still gaining traction, with more entering corporate memberships with places like the YMCA. In those cases, companies invest in making employee memberships more affordable and sometimes work with them to set goals based on health risk assessments.

"I think a lot of employers really like it, we've seen a growth anywhere between 15-20% over the last few years," said Lee Walraven, Director of Regional and Community Partnerships with the Dahl Family YMCA.

For businesses banking on returns, a word of caution: it's an investment that must be long-term.

"It takes time, you have to have patience.," Weber said. "It's not going to happen in a year or two."

Making that jump for LHI hasn't just been a good health decision, now it's turned out to be a good business decision too.

Studies that showed success with corporate wellness programs like the one used at LHI saw an average $3.37 return on every dollar invested. Since beginning, LHI has since expanded it to their Belle Square location as well, which includes access to primary care.

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