Engaged employees know your company’s expectations and believe their job descriptions implicitly include exceeding them. They use their talents to excel, connect well with colleagues and customers, and move their companies forward.

To learn more about transforming engagement levels in the workplace, Smart Business spoke with Diana Hendel, Pharm.D., CEO of three MemorialCare hospitals in Long Beach. MemorialCare is recognized as one of only 32 companies worldwide to receive the 2013 Gallup Great Workplace award.

How can you recognize an engaged employee?

When engaged employees walk past visitors in our hospitals’ hallways they make eye contact, smile and stop to help people find their way. Disengaged employees hurry by, believing that’s not in their job description. Engaged employees are more productive, customer-centric, safe and successful. They are 3.5 times more likely to be thriving in their lives, experience better days and have fewer unhealthy days. We see a direct correlation between high employee engagement and the service satisfaction scores we receive from our patients and their families.

What’s the first step to improve engagement?

Creating a work environment that values people and aims to ensure each employee has an emotional connection to the company’s mission is at the heart of sustaining employee engagement. Become an active partner with your employees to maintain or improve their health and wellness. Create an environment that makes being healthy easier, with nutritious on-site food options, walking challenges, weight reduction programs, gyms, smoke-free campuses, activity days, health information and more.

Encourage teams to take walking rather than sitting meetings, take activity breaks and make walking workstations available. In MemorialCare’s case, implementing these core aspects of a wellness program resulted in 77 percent of our employees reporting that their organization makes an effort to help them improve their health.

What are the next steps to partnering with employees?

Once you’ve implemented the foundation of a wellness program, the next step is to provide your employees with the knowledge they need to impact their risk factors for chronic disease. Understanding the key biometric numbers of blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol and body mass index, and their connection to heart disease and diabetes can help individuals lower their risk. Chronic diseases like high blood pressure, diabetes, asthma and depression are responsible for two-thirds of the total increase in health care spending, so reducing these conditions can help lower health care expenses.

Actively partner with employees who need the most help managing chronic conditions. The latest evidence shows that the support of a team including a wellness coach, nurse, dietician and physician can give individuals with chronic conditions what they need to make important changes.

MemorialCare partners with our employees with chronic conditions to make long-lasting lifestyle changes, lessen complications, improve outcomes, and lower medical and pharmaceutical costs through our program, The Good Life — In Balance. With 93 percent participant retention, the program has led to significant improvements in participants’ blood glucose and blood pressure.

How can employers improve the workplace?

Help identify key factors in moving the dial on your employees’ engagement by participating in a survey, like those initiated by Gallup. These surveys compare your results with other companies so you can learn where you excel or need improvement. There is a direct connection between investing in employees’ wellness and achieving internationally recognized employee engagement levels. By creating a culture where well-being is valued, you can improve health, morale and productivity, while reducing absenteeism as well as the costs of workers’ compensation and health

benefits.

Diana Hendel, Pharm.D, CEO, Long Beach Memorial, Miller Children’s Hospital Long Beach, Community Hospital Long Beach. Reach her at dhendel@memorialcare.org.

Website: See more health and wellness information, podcasts and videos.

Insights Health Care is brought to you by MemorialCare Health System

 

Published in Los Angeles

As we approach next year’s continued implementation of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), which affects how and what type of health insurance employers will offer, many employers are beginning to explore the best plan for them.

One popular topic of discussion is wellness programs. The PPACA provision on wellness programs that rewards positive health outcomes is being expanded. Next year, employers will be able to provide even more incentives for employees participating in wellness programs, with the reward percentage changing from 20 to 30 percent of the cost of coverage.

“It’s not surprising that a significant change under the PPACA is one that encourages employers to promote and reward employees for healthy behaviors,” says Marty Hauser, CEO of SummaCare, Inc. “Employer-sponsored wellness programs are popular, and incentivizing employees to make better overall lifestyle and wellness choices can help to lower long-term health care costs. It is reasonable at a time when we are trying to make health care available to more consumers and also drive down overall health care costs.”

Smart Business spoke to Hauser about the new wellness aspect of the PPACA and what employers should consider to help encourage and promote a healthier workforce next year.

What types of wellness programs are eligible for the 30 percent reward?

Wellness programs are currently and will continue to be divided into two categories — participatory wellness programs and health-contingent wellness programs. Participatory wellness programs are not eligible for the 30 percent reward, while qualified health-contingent wellness programs are.

In general, participatory wellness programs account for the majority of wellness programs offered by employers. They are made available to most employees and do not offer a reward or request that the individual satisfy a health standard to receive a reward. Examples include a full- or partial-reimbursement to employees for fitness center membership and/or a program that rewards employees for attending free health education seminars or lectures.

Health-contingent wellness programs require the participant meet certain health measures to receive a reward. These rewards can include incentives such as a discount or rebate on monthly health insurance premiums; partial- to full-waiver of cost-sharing benefits, such as deductibles or copays; and/or other monetary or non-monetary incentives. An example could include a program where participants’ biometrics are measured regularly and rewards are based on meeting a health measure. Participants who don’t meet the health measure must take additional steps to get the reward.

What are the requirements of a health-contingent wellness program?

A qualifying health-contingent wellness program must meet five regulatory requirements. These requirements include:

• Frequency of opportunity to qualify. The program is offered to all similarly situated employees.

• Size of reward. This could be as high as 30 percent of the cost of health coverage and up to as much as 50 percent for programs meant to prevent/reduce tobacco use.

• Uniform availability and reasonable alternative standards. The program is designed to be available for everyone, with a reasonable alternative for those whose medical conditions don’t allow them to participate to the full health standard.

• Reasonable design. The program is designed with an overall goal to promote health and prevent disease.

• Notice of other means of qualifying for the reward. Those who qualify for a different means of obtaining a reward have the opportunity to do so.

These requirements are meant to protect the consumer and safeguard against unfair practices.

What should interested employers do?

Discuss your options with your health insurer, benefits consultant or broker to determine what type of program makes the most sense for your employee population, time, wellness staff and budget.

Marty Hauser is CEO at SummaCare, Inc. Reach him at hauserm@summacare.com

Website: To learn more about health care reform, visit www.summacare.com/healthcarereform or www.healthcare.gov.

Insights Health Care is brought to you by SummaCare, Inc.

Published in Akron/Canton

Engaged employees know your company’s expectations and work hard to meet and exceed them. They use their talents to excel, drive innovation and move their companies forward.

To learn more about transforming employee engagement levels in the workplace, Smart Business spoke with Barry Arbuckle, Ph.D., president and CEO of MemorialCare Health System, recognized as one of only 32 companies worldwide to receive the 2013 Gallup Great Workplace award.

What do engaged employees do to improve the workplace?

Imagine a candy wrapper lying on the floor of your business’s lobby. An engaged employee picks it up and puts it in the trash. They are 100 percent invested in helping your organization succeed. A disengaged employee ignores it and walks by. An actively disengaged employee was the one who threw it there to begin with.

According to Gallup, the average ratio of engaged to disengaged employees in their database of health care organizations is 4-to-1. Engaged employees are more productive, customer-centric, safe and successful. They are 3.5 times more likely to be thriving in their lives, experience better days and have fewer unhealthy days. We see a direct correlation between high employee engagement and the service satisfaction scores we receive from our patients and their families.

How do you improve employee engagement?

Creating a work environment that values people and aims to ensure each employee has an emotional connection to the company’s growth or mission is at the heart of sustaining employee engagement.

Become an active partner with your employees to maintain or improve their health and wellness. Create an environment that makes being healthy easier, with nutritious on-site food options, walking challenges, weight reduction programs, gyms, smoke-free campuses, activity days, health information and more. Encourage teams to take walking rather than sitting meetings, take activity breaks and make walking workstations available. In MemorialCare’s case, implementing these core aspects of a wellness program resulted in 77 percent of our employees reporting that their organization makes an effort to help them improve their health.

How do you become a partner in your employees’ wellness?

Once you’ve got the basics of a wellness program in place, help provide your employees with the knowledge they need to impact their risk factors for chronic disease. Understanding the key biometric numbers of blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol and body mass index, and their connection to heart disease and diabetes can help individuals to lower their risk. Chronic diseases like hypertension, high blood pressure, diabetes, asthma and depression are responsible for two-thirds of the total increase in health care spending. Reducing these can help lower health care expenses.

Actively partner with employees who need the most help managing chronic conditions. The latest evidence shows that the support of a team including a wellness coach, nurse, dietician and physician can give individuals with chronic conditions what they need to make important changes. MemorialCare partners with our employees with chronic conditions to make long-lasting lifestyle changes, lessen complications, improve outcomes, and lower medical and pharmaceutical costs through our program, The Good Life – In Balance. With 93 percent participant retention, the program has led to significant improvements in their blood glucose and blood pressure.

How can employers improve the workplace?

Participate in a survey, like those initiated by Gallup, to help identify key factors in moving the dial on your employees’ engagement. These surveys compare your results with other companies, so you can learn where you excel or need improvement.

There is a direct connection between investing in employees’ wellness and achieving internationally recognized employee engagement levels. By creating a culture where well-being is valued, you can improve health, morale and productivity, while reducing absenteeism, and the costs of health benefits and workers’ compensation.

Barry Arbuckle, Ph.D., is president and CEO of MemorialCare Health System. Reach him at barbuckle@memorialcare.org.

Website: See more health and wellness information, podcasts and videos.

Insights Health Care is brought to you by MemorialCare Health System

 

 

Published in National
Monday, 31 December 2012 19:45

How to manage risk by analyzing claims data

Rising health care costs have companies looking everywhere for ways to get expenses under control.

“In years past, we would meet with human resources personnel and explain their renewal increase to them. Nowadays, with benefits costs rising so quickly, it’s an important and high-dollar line item on budgets and profit and loss statements. CFOs and CEOs are asking how to stem the tide of these increases. It’s captured everyone’s attention,” says Dan Wilke, Director of Underwriting at Benefitdecisions, Inc. Wilke says solutions can be found by analyzing medical claims to identify problem areas that can be addressed through plan changes and wellness programs.

Smart Business spoke with Wilke about reviewing claims data and what to do with the results.

What are the major categories of medical claims that impact insurance costs?

Most employee groups are going to have medical claims that fall into six major categories:

• Coronary heart disease

• Obesity

• High blood pressure

• Depression

• Asthma

• Diabetes

How do you gather claims data to analyze?

Most companies can obtain this data from their insurance carrier if the group is larger. There are also analytical tools that mine this data and produce reports that can be reviewed to pinpoint areas of concern that show extraordinary claims history or occurrences. These analytical tools provide detailed claims benchmarks in comparison to other companies of your size and industry. Your benefits consultant should be doing this analysis on a regular basis to advise you on the best strategies for your company.

How can companies use the claims data to lower health care costs?  

One method for fully insured plans is to obtain Size of Payments reports from your insurance carriers. These categorize how many claimants incur medical claims in specific dollar ranges. Upon reviewing the data, employers may be able to capture significant premium savings of 25 to 30 percent by pairing a Health Reimbursement Arrangement (HRA) with a High-Deductible Health Plan (HDHP), with limited impact to total out-of-pocket costs.

Can you look at claims reports and tailor wellness programs to fit problem areas?

Absolutely. Some programs, such as smoking cessation, will affect all claim categories and chronic conditions. Companies can educate employees on the damage smoking and poor lifestyles can do, since on average, employees incur three to four times more claims per year if they have negative lifestyles.

When the claims incurred are higher than average in the high blood pressure category, strategies such as a walking program with pedometers can target high blood pressure and help reduce the risk of heart failure.

What else can you do to manage rising costs of health insurance?

The other direct way to manage costs is to have a healthy employee group. Getting employees to participate in a wellness program is the first step, and money can help motivate them. Give them choices whereby if they take a health risk assessment or participate in a wellness program, they’ll get a reduction in their medical insurance premiums, and you’ll start to get their attention.

HR departments also need to work with the C-suite and the owners of the company. When management buys into the concept of wellness, it goes a long way toward improving the culture and motivating employees to change their lifestyles. Even the healthiest groups will include people who have claims resulting from the lifestyles they lead. Companies should promote wellness by changing the culture and getting employees to change their lifestyles, whether it starts with a simple walking program or charging different premium rates based on whether they’re a smoker or nonsmoker.

Claims can be analyzed in a variety of ways to provide cost saving ideas to help manage your medical insurance costs. Work with your benefits consultant to strategize and develop cost-savings options.

Dan Wilke is director of underwriting at Benefitdecisions, Inc. Reach him at (312) 376-0437 or dwilke@benefitdecisions.com.

Insights Employee Benefits is brought to you by Benefitdecisions, Inc.

Published in Chicago

Wellness programs and initiatives are evolving as employers realize healthier employees give them a competitive edge.

“It’s an issue of creating a high-performing, competitive work force,” says Nancy Pokorny, managing consultant with Findley Davies. “Currently, many companies hang their hat on being world-class safety organizations. They know that maintaining a safe work environment is good for business. As we move forward, companies will be known as ‘healthy organizations,’ too.”

Smart Business spoke with Pokorny about the evolution of wellness programs.

How have wellness programs evolved in recent years?

In the recent past, company HR leaders or benefits staffs initiated wellness programs, but now executive teams are driving strategic wellness initiatives. We prefer ‘wellness initiatives’ because programs tend to have a beginning and an end. Initiatives are much more strategic and imply that wellness is one component of the overall business strategy.

For example, a Fortune 500 Cleveland manufacturer underwent a global HR system implementation that required a year-long, intense work schedule for members of HR, IT and project management teams. Prior to launch, project team members gathered for wellness training. They were given free access to health management tools so that they could manage their health throughout the rigorous project. The focus was not on benefits cost reduction; it was on achieving peak performance.

Additionally, employers are integrating multiple initiatives, such as wellness, benefit plan design, health and safety, and onsite clinics to improve employee health. And research supports the interconnectivity of these various initiatives.

A National Council on Compensation Insurance Inc. study shows a link between obesity and higher workers’ compensation costs, finding that obese injured workers received an average of 75 treatments for an injury versus an average of four treatments for those deemed to be nonobese.

What are the most important components of a wellness initiative?

There are three: leadership, permanent commitment to change and accountability. Let’s look at each one, starting with leadership. Too often, leaders provide verbal support, and maybe even financial support through the allocation of a wellness budget, but they have no real role in the initiative. The organization’s leaders and key influencers must have clearly stated roles, just as they would with a new sales, marketing or reorganization initiative.

Second, in order for wellness to become a permanent part of an organization’s culture, wellness should not be something you ‘do,’ it should become a part of who you are as an organization.

Research from Cornell University’s Food and Brand Lab indicates we make approximately 200 decisions daily related to food alone. For the eight to 12 hours a day an employee is at work, it provides a great opportunity to enable good decision-making. This includes food and beverage choices and areas for movement, such as open stairwells.

Finally, as with any change management process, there needs to be accountability for change. We are seeing the use of incentives for health management activities and outcomes. We recommend that these incentives apply not only to those who are enrolled in the corporate benefit plans but to all employees.

One caution about incentives — they are good tools for jumpstarting initiatives but they do not change behavior in the long term. That’s where leadership and permanent culture change come in.

How can you tell if a wellness initiative is working?

With expert help and use of a third party to protect employee privacy, there are several steps you can take to measure the impact of your wellness initiative.

  • Categorize your employee population by health risk group through a health screening and measure the movement between risk categories.

  • Determine the number of employees with one or more chronic conditions such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, etc. How many are actively managing chronic conditions through medications and lifestyle changes? Are they reversing their conditions by working with a health coach, an onsite health center or personal physician?

  • Look at change in attitude toward health from year to year, via employee engagement surveys, culture surveys or wellness surveys.

  • Measure the advancement of the physical work environment. Is the cafeteria or vending area seeing an increase in the sale of healthy products versus nonhealthy products?

  • Analyze aggregate information from benefit programs to find changes in utilization and other patterns, such as if the percentage of employees receiving preventive care exams increases or the percentage of employees visiting the ER decreases.

By using this type of ‘wellness dashboard,’ you can determine which efforts are working and allocate resources to those making the greatest impact.

Are wellness initiatives relevant only to those companies that offer health care benefits?

No. If you focus only on the employees in your benefit plan, wellness initiatives appear to be more about saving money for the company than creating and maintaining a healthy, productive work force. Similar to the efforts in establishing a safe work environment, efforts to create a healthy work environment are here to stay. A healthy work force will outperform an unhealthy one because there is a greater energy and capacity for work.

Nancy Pokorny is a managing consultant at Findley Davies. Reach her at (216) 875-1939 or npokorny@findleydavies.com.

Insights Human Capital is brought to you by Findley Davies Inc.

Published in Akron/Canton
Wednesday, 31 October 2012 22:19

How to make wellness work for your company

When considering whether to begin a company-wide wellness program, many CEOs and benefit administrators can be overwhelmed and confused with the options available to them. You may wonder what kind of program is right for your company, how much it will cost, how you are going to engage your employees and whether there will be a measurable return on investment (ROI). Often, by working closely with your insurance carrier, you can build a strong wellness program from the ground up.

“Implementing and maintaining a successful corporate wellness program doesn’t have to be difficult,” says Marty Hauser, CEO of SummaCare. “With a little guidance from your insurer, you can successfully begin and manage an effective program that will assist in keeping you and your employees healthy and happy.”

By working closely with your insurer, you can learn tips for overcoming hurdles before beginning your program, ways to engage employees to participate, ideas for implementing effective incentives and even how to determine success metrics — regardless of the size of your program.

Smart Business spoke with Hauser about successful wellness programs that began small and produced big results.

How can a company take the concept of wellness and turn it into an actual program that works for it?

Having an idea of what you want your wellness program to accomplish is one of the most important factors in turning the idea or concept of wellness into reality.

For an example of how this can happen, take Company A, a manufacturer of frozen bakery products. Company A has 113 employees and tried for several years to implement a wellness program before finally finding one that made sense for its culture and staff. After years of informal, sporadic wellness initiatives, Company A decided to create an organized, sustainable wellness movement for employees as a resource for improving their health conditions.

Supported by the co-owner’s belief that he owed his staff information, instruction, incentives and encouragement to help improve the quality of their lives, Company A designed a diverse, low-key and nonjudgmental program to help employees improve their diet, exercise regularly and make more positive lifestyle choices. Company A designed a program that includes a variety of programs and activities for employees to choose from, allowing each employee to participate in those most appealing to him or her, without a requirement for participation or consequence for not participating.

Though initially faced with skepticism from employees and difficulty identifying ways to interest a broad number of people at the same time, once the employees at Company A realized the company was serious and simply trying to guide and support those wishing to improve their health, participation quickly followed. Through the years, Company A has consistently offered new and different activities, formed a wellness committee that has kept in constant contact with staff and asked for suggestions from their employees to keep them engaged. To further encourage participation, Company A came up with an exciting incentive model: assigning each activity in the wellness program a certain number of credits. Once the employee accumulates the required number of annual credits he or she receives a $200 cash bonus.

Today, Company A has what they consider to be a successful program, with happy employees who have maintained healthier lives since the program’s implementation.

Is it possible for a company to quickly implement a successful wellness program?

While gauging the success of a wellness program takes time, it is possible to introduce the idea of wellness at your company and have it catch on quickly, thus turning it into a successful program in as little as a few years.

For example, look at Company B, a local manufacturing company with 180 employees. For six months, Company B considered implementing a wellness program before taking action. Employee absenteeism and unfavorable health, as well as rising insurance premiums, motivated Company B to design a program to not only improve the overall health of its employees, but to encourage early detection and treatment of health conditions.

The program launched as a voluntary participation program, but eventually became an incentive activity/points based program in which wellness activities were offered throughout the year. Employees receive points for every activity in which they participate. Employees then receive a discount, penalty or neither on their biweekly medical payroll deduction based on the points they accumulate during the previous year’s wellness program activities.

In addition to the points program, Company B holds drawings throughout the year in which employees who participate in wellness activities receive prizes. Also, they hold a monthly fruit or vegetable spotlight  — and all employees receive that month’s featured item. Employees are provided with access to a nurse who can answer questions, listen to employees, create activities and assist with annual health risk surveys.

Today, Company B maintains and manages a successful wellness program with high employee engagement, thus giving its employees the opportunity to take control of their own health and earn rewards for doing so.

What can an employer do if interested in launching a wellness program?

If you are interested in introducing wellness in your workplace, talk to your insurer to see what kind of program might be right for your employee population. Make sure to communicate what you may have already tried, what has worked and what hasn’t worked, and what your short- and long-term expectations are for the program. Your insurer should be able to help you design a wellness program that is right for you and your employees.

Marty Hauser is the CEO of SummaCare. Reach him at hauserm@summacare.com.

Insights Health Care is brought to you by SummaCare

Published in Akron/Canton

When running a business, it’s difficult not to compare your company practices to those of other successful businesses. Benefit plans, however, need not be identical. Effective benefit plans should be as unique as the companies that create them and the employees for whom they provide financial security, health assurances and lifestyle perks.

There are, however, some best practices that can transcend all plans.

Design a benefit plan that achieves the employee’s goals and yours

When creating or redesigning a benefit plan, consider what you hope to achieve for the company and for your employees. Do you want a plan that provides financial security or promotes wellness? If you aren’t certain, think about your existing employees as well as those you hope to attract.

What is important to them? Almost every employee wants health care insurance and a savings plan, but younger workers may also value education reimbursement while working moms may want childcare or flexible schedules. If you aren’t sure what is most important to your employees, ask them. A thorough benefits survey can help clarify your employees’ values and correct misconceptions.

Educate employees on benefit options

Benefit plans have little value if employees don’t participate in them. Take time to educate employees on the various benefit options your plan provides so they can make smart choices when enrolling in the plan.

When employees fully understand their benefits, they are more likely to use them to their fullest potential. Plus, employees will better appreciate the value of their benefits and how they contribute to their total compensation.

Use benefits as a recruiting tool

When you’re competing for top-notch talent, compensation alone may not give your company the edge it needs. Use your benefit plan to enhance your company’s appeal and target the type of employee you want to attract.

For example, if you want to attract hard-charging employees who are focused on the long-term success of the company, initiate a profit-sharing plan that rewards employees based on the company’s performance. Highlight those aspects of your plan when interviewing job candidates, screening out those that are more concerned with their immediate gain than in contributing to the business’ bottom line.

Initiate a wellness program to minimize health care costs

With recent changes to federal health care regulations, employers are under more pressure than ever to provide health insurance for their employees, so you can bet most employers are looking for ways to reduce those pricey premiums. Just as “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” a well-designed wellness program can be an effective remedy for high healthcare costs.

Promoting fitness and healthy lifestyle choices can help your employees prevent injuries and avoid serious illness down the road. A wellness program doesn’t have to include an onsite health club or expensive gym memberships. It can be as simple and inexpensive as supporting your employees in a walk for charity, hosting a health fair or sponsoring a companywide weight loss challenge.

Reward retention

The value in retaining critical employees is beyond measure. Not only can the cost of continued turnover do serious damage to your company’s bottom line, but maintaining your business’ institutional knowledge and a consistent point-of-contact for your customers is priceless.

With this in mind, design benefit features to encourage longevity and reward retention. Provide options for every stage of your employee’s lifecycle, from the time they are hired to the time they retire. Recognize and reward employees’ tenure with the company with benefit features that grow in value over time.

Maintain a constant commitment to benefits

When things get tough, as they often do, it is natural for employers to consider cutting employee benefits to reduce costs. Don’t automatically assume that this is the most effective cost-cutting measure, because the fallout can be hazardous. Providing a sound benefit plan for your workforce, especially when times are tough, provides employees a sense of security and reminds them that you are still committed to them. As a result, they are more likely to remain committed to you and the company long after an economic upturn.

Too often, benefit plans are a source of stress for employers. It doesn’t have to be that way. If employers adhere to a few tried-and-true best practices when designing their plans, they can offer a benefits package that provides employees long-term security, boosts morale and makes a powerful statement about the company’s commitment to its workforce.

John Allen is president and COO of G&A Partners, a Texas-based human resources and administrative services company that manages human resources, benefits, payroll, accounting and risk management for growing businesses. For more information about the company, visit www.gnapartners.com.

Published in Houston

As healthcare costs continue to rise, many employers are open and anxious to hear ways they might be able to save money while still providing comprehensive medical coverage to their employees. And luckily, many insurance companies have things in place that can do just that.

“While there is no silver bullet in negating health insurance annual increases, there are ways to minimize increases,” says Kevin Cavalier, vice president of sales at SummaCare, Inc. “Plan design is critical in lowering plan premiums, but employee engagement in understanding care options and being a better consumer of healthcare services is imperative. Employee engagement and education should also incorporate wellness initiatives to maximize plan effectiveness.”

There are ways to save money on your health insurance premiums, and your health insurer is on your side. It continually looks for ways to extend cost savings to you, and these savings often come by way of partnership discounts, higher-deductible plan designs, generic drug prescription riders, value-added services and wellness programs.

Smart Business spoke with Cavalier about ways your insurer can help you save on health insurance-related costs.

How can partnerships between your health insurer and a local chamber or consortium save you money on your health insurance premiums?

Choosing an insurer that offers health insurance premium discounts through a chamber or consortium is a great way to save money on the monthly costs associated with offering health insurance to your employees. Chamber members are offered extended discounts on things such as health insurance, office supplies, shipping and transporting, and energy costs because of existing relationships and agreements a chamber has with other companies.

By joining your local chamber, you can save thousands on services and costs you would otherwise have to pay for at full price.

Can staying with a carrier that offers predictable rate increases save you money?

If you have consistently offered health insurance benefits to your employees year after year, you are probably familiar with the annual rate increases that can accompany those benefits. And while some of these increases are unavoidable as medical costs continue to rise, there are ways to help you better anticipate higher costs. Staying with a carrier that offers predictable rate increases can help you better budget for  your anticipated benefits spend while resting assured you are receiving the most value for your dollar.

If you’re thinking about switching carriers due to an extremely low rate, know that, more often than not, these low rates are unsustainable and you may experience an unexpectedly high increase in year two.  Making minor benefit changes can often negate some of the difference in costs between two insurers and saves the time, effort and hassle of changing insurance carriers.

How can offering an HRA/HSA plan save both you and your employees money?

Offering a Health Reimbursement Arrangement (HRA) or Health Savings Account (HSA) in conjunction with a high-deductible plan is a great way to lower your premium costs while still offering your employees comprehensive benefits. An HRA essentially gives your employees the opportunity to use tax-free money (provided by you) to pay for qualified medical expenses. An HSA is a tax-free savings account that belongs to your employees, and they can use it to pay for their insurance deductible and out-of-pocket medical expenses.  Both of these arrangements allow you to save money by offering a higher-deductible, lower-premium plan, and they will educate your employees on the costs associated with the services they receive.

Will offering a generic-based prescription plan also save on costs?

One of the best ways to save costs is to offer a generic-based prescription plan. A generic-based prescription drug plan promotes the use of less expensive, generic drugs by filling prescriptions with the generic alternative when available. With this type of prescription plan, a pharmacy will only fill a prescription with the brand name drug if there is not a generic alternative available and/or if the prescribing physician indicates that it must be dispensed as prescribed with the brand name drug.

In addition to the cost savings of prescriptions filled with generic drugs instead of brand name drugs, many Pharmacy Management programs promote the use of generic drugs by offering a 90-day supply at retail pharmacies or mail-order options for a very low copay. These conveniences and low-cost options have proven effective in steering people toward generics. In addition, it encourages people to have their prescriptions filled at network pharmacies using plan coverage, which, in turn, reduces costs.

Can a wellness program save you money?

Yes, implementing a simple wellness program is oftentimes the first step in helping to lower costs, though the financial benefit may not be immediate. Offering things such as smoking cessation, weight management counseling, preventive care incentive programs and onsite health and fitness classes can reap long-term benefits in relation to the health of your employees and the cost of providing health insurance to them. Talk to your insurer to find out what components of a wellness program would benefit your employers and company.

Regardless of what type of benefit plan you choose to offer your employees, it is critical to continually evaluate what plans and services are offered by your insurer to ensure you have chosen the best plan option while containing costs.

Kevin Cavalier is vice president of sales at SummaCare, Inc. Reach him at (330) 996-8650 or cavalierk@summacare.com.

Insights Health Care is brought to you by SummaCare, Inc.

Published in Akron/Canton

Worksite health promotion is an investment in a company’s most important asset — its employees. Studies have shown that employees are more likely to perform well and less likely to exhibit presenteeism — showing up to work when sick and, as a result, underperforming — when they are in optimal health.

And the New Year provides a perfect opportunity to introduce or re-energize workplace wellness, says Renay Gontis, communications coordinator with JRG Advisors, the management company of ChamberChoice.

“While the idea of workplace wellness is not a new one, the implementation process may be,” says Gontis. “As the workplace dynamic continues to change due to an increased number of employees who are working remotely and/or with flexible schedules, employers are faced with new challenges. The absence of employees from the physical workplace makes it difficult to implement a one-size-fits-all wellness program, making it more important than ever to consider the individual’s needs, resources and environment when developing a wellness program. While one employee may be located in the city with easy access to local markets and fitness facilities, a more rural employee may not be.”

Smart Business spoke with Gontis about how to keep employees healthy and how to design a wellness program that meets the needs of everyone.

What are the challenges of creating a wellness program?

Employers are faced with the challenge of keeping employees engaged and participatory in the wellness program. With increased access to the Internet through smart phones, laptops and tablets, employers can look to online programs and/or utilize social media to encourage and motivate employees through online groups.

A social media site can provide a meeting place for co-workers with common interests such as running, walking and spinning to discuss upcoming wellness events, past successes and future goals. It may also add a competitive edge that will increase motivation and participation among employees.

How can an employer start to implement a wellness program?

When starting any new program in the workplace, getting buy-in from senior management is critical if the initiative is going to succeed. And because it is not always easy to get senior executives to attend lunch-and-learns, participate in office walks or other activities due to their schedules, it is important that they display their commitment in other ways. For example, management can illustrate their dedication to the program by allocating company resources to include a budget for wellness initiatives.

Incentives will engage and encourage participation from the work force. The incentives do not necessarily need to be large; however, they should be relevant to each individual company’s employee population. A great way to determine what kinds of incentives would be effective at a particular company is to survey employees about their hobbies, extracurricular activities and family interests. Having this information will help the employer select incentives that will not only motivate active employees to remain healthy but also encourage the less active employees to get involved and take a more active role in their health.

The incentives should be enticing and stick within the wellness theme. The last thing an employer wants to do is to offer counterproductive incentives such as membership in a cake of the month club or a gift certificate for an all-you-can-eat dinner. A few positive incentive examples include fitness club memberships, new walking/running shoes, massages and paid time off.

How can an employer get employees to buy in to a wellness program?

Employees may be suspicious of the motives surrounding the employer’s decision to promote workplace wellness, and the employer needs to be cognizant of this issue. Employees’ suspicions are aroused with just about every new program introduced into a workplace.

It can probably be attributed to human nature, the relationship between management and nonmanagement employees and perhaps the economic environment. For example, if downsizing is part of the work landscape and a new wellness program is launched, rumors might spread that selection of who goes and who stays is based on health status.

Before introducing a wellness program, check the current pulse of the organization. Honest and open communication will help curtail any suspicions that could potentially arise. Communicate to employees not only what you are planning with the program but also why it is being done. Discuss the benefits to the both company and the employee. Addressing suspicion simply and directly will work to the employer’s advantage.

Are there other options if an employer isn’t able to develop a full-blown wellness program?

Some employers may be reluctant or lack the resources to dive into a full-blown wellness program, and this is a common concern. But it is important to remember that even a small activity can plant the seeds of success for a company’s wellness program to grow.

Engage employees by offering some of the easier and less costly things, such as providing a health and wellness bulletin board or a newsletter. The employer can also coordinate walking groups during lunch hours, or introduce a salad bar lunch day.

Keep in mind that employers may want to avoid activities that may be perceived by employees as invasive, such as health screenings, until they are able to offer the employees the education and support for modifying lifestyle habits.

Renay Gontis is communications coordinator of JRG Advisors, the management company of ChamberChoice. Reach her at                 (412) 456-7011 or renaygontis@jrgadvisors.net.

Published in Pittsburgh

Ohio ranked 45th out of 50 states in the 2010 Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, which assesses the overall health of U.S. residents based on several qualifiers including emotional health, physical health, work environment and basic access to health care. Many employers are turning to preventive measures like wellness programs to improve their employees’ health and, in turn, reduce health care, disability and workers’ compensation costs.

“This is a big issue in workers’ compensation because we mostly deal with injury management, but if we don’t understand the preventive side and how it affects someone’s overall health, it will certainly delay recovery, impact disability and increase health care costs to employers,” says David D. Kessler, DC, MHA, CHCQM, vice president and MCO medical director — OH for CompManagement Health Systems, Inc., a workers’ compensation managed care organization (MCO).

“Wellness programs offer the ability to monitor physical or mental health issues, but they require the employer to be fully engaged in its work force. Senior leadership must understand the current status of its work force and, as that changes, be prepared to change course if needed.” Smart Business spoke with Kessler about how wellness initiatives are helping employers control costs.

Why are many employers focusing on wellness as an important part of their health care plans?

The biggest reason is today’s escalating health care costs. Wellness is seen as preventive care, used to reduce the severity, frequency or disability associated with illnesses and/or injuries. To see how preventive or wellness measures can control costs, consider the aging population. As employees age, they have more chronic conditions. That process can be time-consuming, with more frequent doctor visits and trips to the ER. Employers need to be aware of this and have a plan in place to address those issues.

Small employers may be at a disadvantage, because they don’t have the resources a large employer does. But they still have access to certain plans, or can group with other small employers. These employers can reach out to their insurance agent or MCO for guidance.

How can wellness and preventive health programs help companies reduce workers’ comp costs?

Studies show that health promotion programs have average absenteeism reductions of 28 percent, health care cost reductions of 26 percent and workers’ comp and disability reductions of 30 percent. It works because health management and risk management go together. Wellness and safety are two concepts most employers understand.

From a workers’ comp or MCO perspective, we need to have an injury management focus with disease management collaboration. We can’t do it all, but we need the ability to help an injured worker get back to work as soon as possible in a safe manner and understand the benefits of being engaged at work without risk to themselves or their coworkers.

How are health plans addressing wellness?

Traditionally you’ll have a health risk assessment (HRA) performed. That process accumulates aggregate data, not individual data, which would be a violation of HIPAA. So we have to make sure we look at the entire population, not just individuals. Looking at analytics through the HRAs is only the first step. Ongoing engagement and participation is critical to the success of any wellness program.

What are the keys to creating and implementing a successful wellness program?

Senior leadership has to be part of the process. They have to take a stand that this is what’s good for the organization. But to be successful, it also has to focus on what it can do for individuals both inside and outside the workplace. Maybe they want to play better golf, or be able to enjoy playing with grandchildren, or maybe they like to garden.

To that end, you have to know your audience. Some people value monetary incentives, some value paid time off to participate in a health program.

How can an employer ensure a program is a good fit for their company?

You have to have benchmarks. When you look at wellness programs, two factors are assessed: direct costs and indirect costs. Direct costs are easy to measure: simply look at medical costs and how the program impacted those costs. For example, if you ran a smoking cessation program, review how it decreased instances of pulmonary or cardiovascular disease.

Indirect costs include productivity, absenteeism and presenteeism. Measuring indirect costs requires defined and established parameters because senior management will want to track results related to the invested resources. Most studies show ROI anywhere from two-to-one to six-to-one. However, the length of time is anywhere from two to five years, which shows that wellness is not a short-term fix.

What types of issues should a wellness program focus on?

The three big issues are tobacco cessation, stress management and weight management. The good news is tobacco use is declining; the bad news is obesity is increasing.

Employers can research local health clubs and negotiate favorable rates. Some employers consider partial reimbursement of services, as long as there is a plan in place and some way to measure the outcome.

Some program components could be as simple as employee education. You could bring in an expert to do a presentation on yoga and other relaxation methods to reduce stress in the workplace. From a workers’ comp perspective, a heightened level of stress is a barrier to an employee’s recovery from injury or illness.

David D. Kessler, DC, MHA, CHCQM, is vice president and MCO medical director - OH for CompManagement Health Systems, Inc. He can be reeached at (614)760-1788 or kesslerd@chsmco.com.

Published in Cincinnati
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