Onsite health clinics and wellness centers provide health and savings

Some big-name companies are offering convenient, low-cost health care services in their offices and are cutting costs as a result.

Pepsi Bottling Group, Florida Power and Light, Toyota, Sprint Nextel, and Credit Suisse, for example, offer onsite health services, which are proving to be cost-effective for the employers and employees alike. The clinics offer flu shots, check-ups, allergy shots, or maintenance programs for chronic diseases like asthma and diabetes. Some offer weight loss advice and stop-smoking tips.

But even smaller employers are getting into the act by contracting out the function to nearby clinics. Many have also long embraced wellness programs in an effort to keep employees healthy and productive.

Stuart Clark, executive vice president of Comprehensive Health Services, one of the nation's leading onsite management companies, calls onsite clinics "standard best practice" for any large employer. To work effectively, he said a company should have at least 1,000 employees or more at one place and be self-insured. Most onsite programs should expect a 3:1 return on investment within the first three years, he says.

A new report from Watson Wyatt and the National Business Group on Health said health care expenses have increased for most companies by at least 6 percent every year for roughly the last decade.

Watson Wyatt found that 29 percent of companies currently have, or plan to offer, on-site health centers, compared with 26 percent in 2006. About 70 percent of those companies that recently opened onsite clinics said "reducing medical costs" was their main motivation for doing so.

Accounting firms that don't opt for onsite centers find wellness programs to be one of many tools not only to contain costs, but to attract and retain talent, as the services are popular with employees.

Rita Keller, an accounting industry consultant and firm administrator at Brady Ware, noted in her blog that she was impressed by the "wellness refrigerator" at Katz Sapper Miller, a prominent Midwest CPA firm. It's stocked with free fruit juices, yogurt, energy bars, and other healthy snacks. She called the concept "a healthy idea showing that the firm cares and everybody benefits."

Wellness programs are also considered in "Best Places to Work" contests. Accounting firm Porter Keadle Moore, LLP, of Atlanta, won one of the American Psychological Association's 2008 Psychologically Healthy Workplace Awards. The firm offers educational seminars on health issues, a weekly delivery of organic fruit and other healthy snacks, and it sponsors various sports teams.

Employers who offer wellness programs can now look at their own return on investment through a ROI calculator offered by the Wellness Councils of America.

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