Employee Benefit News Article

Mending Mind & Body: EAP Services Expand to Address Employee Physical Health

By: Kelley M. Butler

Since they were introduced in the 1970s as a way to aid employees dealing with alcoholism and substance abuse, employee assistance programs have traversed a speedy evolutionary path. Now well known for offering the entire gamut of services – including resources for stress management, depression, family and marital issues, legal problems, financial planning, child and elder care and even religious issues – EAPs still have primarily dealt with tending to mind and spirit.

The programs are changing yet again, however, and now encompass services to help employees care for their physical health and wellness.
For his part, Richard Chaifetz, CEO of Chicago–based EAP provider ComPsych, considers the shift a natural one.

”How you view the changes depends on how you define yourself as an EAP,” he says. ”Our mission is to help employers increase the productivity and performance of their employees. If that's your mission, then traditional EAP services only cover a very small piece. It's much larger.”

All–Around Wellness
Research has long shown that people with chronic health problems are more likely to suffer from depression, and vice versa. To Anthony Brown, vice president of sales and marketing for Portland, Ore.–based Cascade Centers Inc., it stands to reason a comprehensive EAP should be able to help employees deal with both the physical and the emotional. Cascade recently began providing a health and wellness program as part of its EAP services.

”We love being able to offer it. It's nice for our intake coordinators to be able to talk to someone who's called us for help with stress, but if we figure out they have poor nutrition and don't exercise, we can help with all of those things,” says Brown. ”We can sign them up for face–to–face [counseling] sessions and for a session with a health coach as well.”

The new program, Cascade Personal Wellness, includes unlimited access to health coaches, an online members–only Web site, health risk assessments, discounts for gym memberships, tip sheets, books and monthly wellness newsletters. Members can access the program for help with weight management, smoking cessation, fitness and exercise, and prenatal and postnatal care.

”We are very excited to offer [the program] as a core service to our members,” Brown says. ”Not only will it help members lead a healthier lifestyle, it will be an additional resource for employers to help reduce employee–related expenses, and increase utilization of other EAP services. It's a natural flow of where EAPs are going and makes perfect sense for us.”

With the program still so new, Cascade has no hard ROI numbers to report yet. However, Brown says, ”we've already been lowering absences and health costs, and this is a new way to do it.”

EAP Consultants also is getting a positive reaction to its health care coaching service, which has been available for the last year.

”Integrating wellness with EAP ultimately makes for a more successful outcome,” says Sandy Rosenberg, the firm's executive director for EAP services. ”I think a lot of times employers don't make the connection right away, but once they do, they say, Oh yes, obviously!' It shows that EAPs are really evolving.”

ComPsych offers similar services through its Healthy Guidance initiative, providing guidance, encouragement and information to employees through health tests, literature, online information and health coaching. The program includes health risk assessments, wellness seminars and also added employer support through supervisor training.

”It works hand in hand with disease management in dealing with co–morbid states of illness – like cardiovascular disease, diabetes and depression,” Chaifetz says. ”We help employers find these cases and go into a more in–depth, targeted intervention strategy.”

A CDH Breakthrough ComPsych also is breaking new ground in the EAP–health care space this year with its HealthChampion program, an employee health advocacy program designed to help individuals navigate the health care system.

Staffed by health care experts, Chaifetz says, ”HealthChampion provides information and resources to help people look at their prescription, medical care and health plan choices to meet their medical and financial needs. With the growth in consumer–driven health plans and HSAs, people are being forced to make more independent health care decisions.”

Indeed, in a nationwide survey of 434 employers, Aon Consulting and the International Society of Certified Employee Benefit Specialists found that 28% currently offer a CDHP to their employees, up from 22% in 2005.

Additionally, the use of health reimbursement arrangements and health savings accounts have evolved. Today, 43% of organizations with CDHPs offer an HRA, 48% offer an HSA and 10% offer both.

Educating employees on successfully using such plans still is a sticking point, which is where Chaifetz believes ComPsych can lend a hand.

”We work cooperatively with health plans, and the beauty of HealthChampion is that [our advisors] are independent and nonbiased,” Chaifetz says. ”We have no interest in employees selecting one type of plan over another, which is a big plus for users.”

Ironically, though, according to Chaifetz, ”most employers [using HealthChampion] don't have a CDHP. They're either thinking about it, or they just think the program is a valuable resource” to aid consumers.

Either way, it's all part of the job for an EAP, says Chaifetz. ”We want to help people address the full array of issues that confront them so they can lead healthy and balanced lives. Wellness is another area that we know employees struggle with, and so we want to help.” – K.M.B.