Boomers are living longer and not necessarily healthier lives according to a research letter by Dr. Dana E. King, M.D. published recently in JAMA Internal Medicine. The research cited a generation burdened with chronic diseases and consuming a lot of medication. At the same time, many workers are attempting to extend their careers beyond the customary retirement age of sixty-five. Boomers, work and wellness create a “perfect storm” for employers focused on managing employee benefit costs and increasing productivity.
Employee wellness is a business strategy for companies of all sizes. Organizations are implementing incentive plans for their workers to stop smoking, lose weight and begin exercising. There is also a new trend toward aggressive return-to-work programs for employees after surgery or injury, King’s research showed an increasing disability rate among 49- 67 year-olds and twice as many using a cane or walker compared with the previous generation.
While Boomers have a reputation of being active and postponing retirement, obesity and lack of exercise leading to chronic diseases and physical-function limitations are threatening the choice to continue working. According to King, “what’s important for the individual reader to understand is that it’s not too late to adopt new healthy lifestyle habits and make a big difference in your health. It really needs to have a high priority in your personal life.”
There are many ways to accomplish achieving better health and the first place working Boomers should look is through services provided in their employee benefits. They are often under-utilized because workers do not understand all of the services employer-sponsored health plans provide. As employees age, utilizing health, wellness and EAP benefits may offer resources to reclaim the vitality needed to extend a
career or provide the energy needed to pursue a passion.
Larger companies have an occupational health department to provide safety training; however, occupational health nurses often coordinate free health promotion programs and provide tips to reduce workplace risk and injuries. In companies without an on-site occupational health nurse, most employer-sponsored health insurance programs offer a wellness component either through telephone counseling or online. In addition to the counseling component ask about discounts for health club memberships and other wellness services including chiropractic care and nutrition assessments. Depending on the health insurance plan, a preventative care or annual physical visit may be available through a primary care physician. This is also an opportunity to ask for a referral to a dietician or health coach. Call the member services telephone number on the health insurance card to determine if the fees for these professionals are covered or what paperwork is needed for reimbursement through a health care flexible spending account.
Often careers are shortened by more than physical health limitations. Boomers facing stress, burnout and other mental or emotional health issues may check their employee benefits to utilize an Employee Assistance Plan (EAP) if it is offered. These plans vary in design and often offer a set number of visits fully-paid by the employer with a variety of counseling professionals. Based on their assessment, ongoing care may be extended and covered by the employer’s health insurance benefits for mental health. EAP services are protected by HIPAA, the health care privacy provision, that insures the employer will not know that an employee or their covered dependents are utilizing the benefit or for what reason. They key to better health for working Boomers may be using employee benefits more effectively. How many will use that key to open the door to wellness?