Investing in health screening is good for business

Health screening is no longer regarded as a benefit reserved for executives, as more affordable options enable employers to invest in wellness for their wider workforce, says Kate Donovan

Just as cosmetic surgery has gone from being a prerogative of the rich and famous to a viable option for the body-conscious masses, health screening is no longer primarily a benefit reserved for high-flying executives.

Checks on blood pressure and cholesterol levels were once an expensive benefit used to attract highly-sought after senior executives and used as a means of keeping them healthy in their pressured jobs. However, the perception that health screening is too expensive to offer to the wider workforce is changing. Karen Woodley, business manager at Axa PPP Healthcare, says: “Both traditional ‘executive medicals’ and increasingly lower-cost web-based screens can help employees to take stock of their physiological, psychological and social risks.”

Stefan Wisbauer, managing director of wellbeing specialist Ihealth, says many employers now recognise that paying for employees to have a health screen is a business investment. “We’ve gone from an industrial age to much more of a service economy and in this economy, people are key. It’s an asset management investment,” he adds.

While some employers are prepared to cover the full cost of health screening, others opt to encourage employee take-up by including it in a flexible benefits scheme, which will then be funded from employees’ flex allowance. Offering the perk through a salary sacrifice arrangement, meanwhile, enables staff to save national insurance (NI) and tax, while employers will save NI.

Mobile health screening facilities have been key in making it possible for employers to provide health screens to a much larger proportion of their workforce. This is often seen as practical and more affordable. Bryan Taylor, national account manager at HSA, says: “The cost of our health screening service gives employers the opportunity to offer health screens to a much wider range of staff where previously cost would have prohibited this option.”

These mobile services have been particularly popular during health awareness initiatives and at benefit fairs.

Healthcare cash plans that include health screening as an add-on can also help to widen the perk’s availability. HSA has re-launched its WorkWell corporate healthcare cash plan so employers can supplement other healthcare benefits with occupational health provision and health screening modules. This hybrid plan is a sign of the move towards making health screening more affordable and increasing its availability. Keith Bradley, chief executive of HSF Health Plan, says: “I am sure some companies reserve it for senior staff but this is not necessary.”

Online health screening opportunities also allow employers to extend such services to the entire workforce. Employee-driven health management programmes, such as Wellness Health Manager from Wellness Technology, for example, combine self-measured medical data with information about employees’ lifestyle factors in order to analyse impact and risk factors across a range of conditions including circulatory diseases, diabetes and osteoporosis. This programme then recommends an action plan for staff and, if necessary, may recommend more targeted screening for individuals.

However, while more affordable options are opening health screening up to increasing numbers of employees, Ihealth’s Wisbauer believes employers still recognise the value of funding health screening for senior executives. But he adds it is also wise to differentiate the level and types of health checks offered by grouping staff according to their potential level of risk. For example, musculo-skeletal checks might be more suitable than cholesterol checks for employees aged in their thirties. Ideally, employers should carry out an annual basic check for all employees and then offer more in-depth checks for high-risk cases.

If a medical condition is detected as a result of a health screening then employees can use other healthcare benefits, such as private medical insurance, as a means of support, as long as the symptoms did not begin before the cover was taken out or during the qualifying period. However, Bradley does not believe employers can be responsible for providing extra support in respect of conditions that are detected. “I cannot see how an employer can have any responsibility in this direction even if they have paid for a screening separately or through HSF cover. The limits of the staff benefits on offer should be clearly stated,” he explains.

Occupational health services and employee assistance programmes may also end up assisting staff following a screening.

If you read nothing else read this…

  • Offering health screening can be seen as a business investment and can be provided as part of a flexible benefits scheme or on a salary sacrifice basis to reduce costs for employers.
  • Mobile health screening facilities have also brought down costs and can save on time and resources.
  • Employers may benefit from determining the level and types of screening or checks offered to staff based on factors such as their risk levels.