Healthy, wealthy and wise Featured

8:00pm EDT July 26, 2007

The onus to supply quality health care seems permanently bestowed on employers, and surveys show employees consider it the single most important benefit.

“All employers are looking at ways to mitigate health care plan costs, and wellness is one of the best ways to keep costs down, keep claims down, and maintain a healthier population,” says Anne Carney, executive vice president, Hilb, Rogal & Hobbs. “A lot of people are talking about wellness, but not as many are willing to put the resources or funds behind it,” adds Martha Vinas, vice president, business strategy.

Smart Business recently spoke with Carney and Vinas about how a comprehensive wellness initiative in any company can help reduce health care benefit costs and create a healthier and more productive workforce.

What is driving health care costs?

Vinas: Individuals with chronic conditions typically generate 50 percent of employer health care costs. Data shows that 10 percent to 15 percent of those costs could be eliminated with better management. Heart conditions, lung conditions and diabetes always seem to top the list of high-cost claims that can be reduced with better management.

Carney: In general, 20 percent of plan participants drive 80 percent of the overall health care plan costs, usually due to those lengthy chronic conditions that have significant ongoing costs to maintain. In many of those high risk/high claimant costs are costs and conditions that came about through lifestyle choices like smoking, excessive drinking and poor eating habits.

How are wellness plans delivered?

Carney: Most health plans sponsored by national carriers have wellness programs included, such as health risk assessments, disease management coaching and complex case management. For plans that are fully insured, the claim liability belongs to the carrier, so it’s in the carrier’s best interest to keep their covered population healthy and well – and those same wellness programs are also offered to employers who self-insure their plans. Beyond that there are an increasing number of wellness vendors that offer a wide range of services; everything from taking biometrics and tracking individual participant’s health improvements, to sponsoring smoking cessation and/or weight loss programs.

Vinas: When you do your due diligence on selecting an appropriate health care package, you need to determine what kind of wellness programs are included so you’re not spending money on additional resources you may not need. Companies often overlook or don’t fully access and utilize these wellness resources. There’s also a wealth of online tools for employees.

How are companies enticing employees to participate in wellness?

Vinas: It depends on the size of the employer and the resources they are willing to dedicate for wellness. The most common incentive has become a reduction in payroll deductions for employees who participate in healthy behaviors; this lets the employee see a direct correlation between his/her behavior and their costs. We’ve also seen employers lower the copay, or eliminate it altogether, for certain medications for chronic conditions. Other creative initiatives include supporting fitness by providing pedometers and using online tools to track exercise or simply changing the vending machines in the cafe-teriato include healthier items.

Carney: Wellness committees, especially when they are made up of a cross-section of employees – can also help design and promote appropriate campaigns, and encourage interest among their co-workers. Often, team incentives like movie tickets or an early dismissal encourage workers to help each other reach their health goals.

What first steps should companies take toward a new or improved wellness initiative?

Vinas: Companies, either internally or through a consulting partner or vendor, need to identify if they’re even ready for a program. Factors that should be gauged include the expected support from senior leadership and support from the employees who will actually be taking advantage of what the program will offer. Working with a consultant gives you access to resources and they understand how to track data, set up programs and measure success.

Carney: Companies are starting to grow their business strategy around wellness. Putting in a smoking cessation program is a noble goal, but a better goal would be putting in a smoking cessation program that includes a lower payroll deduction next year if the employee remains smoke free. Implementing a two- or three-year strategy helps people see that it’s to their own benefit in multiple ways to participate, and that the company has a commitment to a healthier workforce. Rolling out a wellness plan to feel better is great, but rolling it out to have a strategy around a healthier workforce is even better.

ANNE CARNEY, CEBS, is executive vice president, Hilb, Rogal & Hobbs in Tampa. She can be reached at (813) 289-7996 or MARTHA VINAS is vice president, business strategy, Hilb, Rogal & Hobbs in Tampa. Reach her at (813) 864-2744 or