Now that the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act, U.S. employers may try to make their employees healthier in a bid to reduce costs.

Bill George, former CEO of Medtronic and a Harvard professor, reacted to the historic ruling by telling CNBC today that corporations will spend money providing incentives and benefits to help employees lose weight, quit smoking and embrace healthier lifestyles. Skyrocketing healthcare costs, he says, are mostly related to lifestyle.

Emerging trend

In fact, this trend has already started. A 2010 study found that wellness programs are smart for employees and the bottom line, with the return on investment sometimes as high as six to one. The researchers, writing in the Harvard Business Review, said wellness programs must be comprehensive, and can't stop at giving out a few passes to a fitness center and nutrition information in the cafeteria.

The researchers from Texas A&M University and the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center studied 10 organizations that have financially sound workplace wellness programs.

They conducted interviews with senior executives, managers of health-related functions and focus groups of middle managers and employees -- in all, about 300 people.

A broad range of companies -- including Johnson & Johnson, Lowe's, H-E-B, and Healthwise -- have built their employee wellness programs on six major principles.

  1. engaged leadership at multiple levels;
  2. strategic alignment with the company's identity and aspirations;
  3. a design that is broad in scope and high in relevance and quality;
  4. broad accessibility;
  5. internal and external partnerships; and
  6. effective communications.

The companies have reaped big rewards in the form of lower costs, greater productivity, and higher morale, the researchers found.

Healthy games

Some companies may also introduce games in the workplace that can promote health and improve the well-being of employees, saving employers direct and indirect health care costs.

"Wellness programs using health games have the potential to significantly impact human well-being and the costs, pain, and suffering of preventable illnesses and conditions," said Bill Ferguson, PhD, Editor of Games for Health Journal.

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