Thursday, 31 January 2013 19:07

Steve Klingel: A premium offering

Few issues have gained more national attention over the past few years than the rising costs of health care and the importance of a healthy workplace. More businesses and families are struggling to afford higher insurance premiums as they engage in a tremendous national debate about the government’s proper role in health care and health insurance.

In this environment, businesses that provide health insurance coverage for their employees are confronted with two critical tasks:

  1. How to find the most comprehensive health insurance plan with the least cost.
  2. How to educate and engage employees in a cooperative effort to improve their health on an ongoing basis.

The first task is appropriately specific to each organization and its insurance carrier. But the second priority — identifying and implementing effective employee education and wellness programs — can be universally applied to employers of almost any size.

NCCI recognizes that keeping employees healthy is an important means of controlling workers compensation costs, specifically in regard to the detrimental effects of obesity and the rising costs of treating injured workers.

As a self-insured corporation, we are faced with the same rising health care costs and need to control workers compensation expenses just as every other American business has to. But after looking at the research showing just how effective wellness programs could be, our firm determined to implement our own companywide push for employee wellness in 2008.

The mission of the initiative was to develop a multifaceted approach to assisting and educating employees in making behavioral changes designed to reduce health and injury risks, improve their ability to make healthy choices, and enhance their productivity and well-being. We also wanted wellness to extend beyond the physical to include mental wellness, financial wellness and more.

Get your numbers

The first step was encouraging employees to participate in annual biometric screening and online health assessments. We’ve sponsored the screenings — designed to raise employees’ awareness about their personal health numbers — since 2009. Just knowing their critical health care numbers gives employees the information they need to begin taking better care of themselves.

Choose a theme

A successful wellness program includes programs and activities around clear goals. One way to clarify the goals is to use themes. In 2010, our firm embraced the theme “Mission Nutrition,” which included offering a weight-loss class and nutrition counseling plus retooling our on-site cafeteria and vending machines to provide healthy food options.

The following year our focus was “Get Moving,” and we improved our on-site fitness facilities — adding additional exercise equipment, expanding hours and offering free membership to all employees.

Make it an ongoing effort

This year — as part of our “Choose Well” theme — we are building upon the foundation we’ve started by offering employees increased support and education around health and financial issues that may arise, adding programs including:

•           one-on-one nutrition counseling

•           on-site smoking cessation program

•           free annual flu shots

•           fitness center programs

•           celebration of national employee health and fitness day

•           participation in the local corporate fun run

•           financial workshops

•           a holiday weight loss program

The result? Employees have not only responded enthusiastically to the wellness offerings and our goal to improve overall health, they’ve taken action. Our company’s biometric screenings show that blood pressure and blood sugar results are better. Employees are increasing fitness levels, eating more nutritiously and smoking less.

In fact, many screening participants have moved from a medium- or high-risk category to a low-risk category since the original assessment.

Even as health care costs continue to rise with inflation, many companies are steadying overall expenses by taking this proactive approach to corporate health. In the end, making wellness a company priority not only makes for healthier, happier employees — it supports a healthy bottom line.

Stephen J. Klingel, CPCU, was appointed president and CEO of NCCI Holdings Inc. in 2002. Before joining NCCI, he was a leader with the St. Paul Companies for more than 25 years.

 

Published in Florida

Whether employees smoked used to be a hands-off subject for employers; that was their own business. Today, however, a cultural shift is driving management to take on employee smoking as a way to reduce health care costs and increase productivity, and smoking cessation programs are increasingly being rolled out as part of an organization’s overall wellness program.

“The key is the culture within that employer’s organization — really taking a top-down approach, having the business owner or CEO promote, champion and buy in to the program,” says Steve Martenet, president of HealthLink.

Employers also need to take a long-term approach to the effectiveness of smoking cessation programs because it is difficult to quit, and payback on the investment won’t happen in the first year. Additionally, the program needs to be tailored to each organization’s unique needs.

Smart Business spoke with Martenet about how to effectively employ smoking cessation programs and how doing so can impact the bottom line.

Why should employers care if employees smoke?

First, they should care from a humanistic standpoint, as caring about whether your employees smoke gets to quality-of-life issues. Smoking is the cause of nine out of 10 deaths from lung cancer, three out of 10 deaths from all cancers, nine out of 10 deaths from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, such as emphysema, and one out of five deaths from heart disease, according to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.

From a business and cost perspective, there are very real costs in terms of health care and lost productivity as a result of having a work force that smokes. Each smoking employee costs an employer $1,000 per year due to direct medical claims, absenteeism and additional building maintenance, according to National Cancer Institute data.

And when compared to nonsmokers, the Mayo Clinic found in a seven-year study of 30,000 of its workers that the average health care costs of its smoking employees and retirees was $1,275 more per year than those of its nonsmoking employees.

How can employers encourage employees who smoke to quit?

There are steps employers can take to decrease the number of employees who smoke.

  • Educate employees about the dangers of smoking.

  • Create an environment that discourages smoking, which includes not allowing smoking in the building and/or on your property.

  • Offer smoking cessation programs as part of a corporate health and wellness strategy.

What are some best practices for smoking cessation programs?

A number of tools can be used as part of a smoking cessation program, such as:

  • Ongoing support and motivation.

  • Personalized plans to quit.

  • Rewards for participation and achieving milestones.

  • Integrating cessation efforts with health care benefits, such as paying for nicotine replacement therapy.

  • Having customized data that reports on the program’s effectiveness.

Each situation is different, depending on how big an issue smoking is for an employer and on the workplace culture, so use these variables to customize the program to meet your specific needs. With self-funded insurance, it is easier to create unique one-on-one lifestyle management programs. For fully insured employers, some insurance companies will offer — depending on state mandates — smoking cessation as part of wellness programs, either embedded into the basic offering or sold as an add-on or rider.

Many employees won’t quit in the first year, so be persistent. Every year, 17 million adults attempt to quit and only 1.3 million succeed, according to AllOneHealth Group. Smoking cessation programs require a three-year investment to break even, with benefits exceeding costs after five years when it has become ingrained in the culture of that organization.

Are cessation programs more effective than charging smokers more for health insurance?

There is a carrot-and-stick approach, and charging more is certainly a stick approach. However, a lot of employers combine the two approaches because it is easier to charge a smoker more if you are providing them with an opportunity to quit. Employers should consult with corporate attorneys before they differentiate what they charge for smoking and nonsmoking employees, as some state laws may prevent fully insured companies from doing this. In fact, the federal government thinks so much of the practice of differentiating that it is built into the health care reform act.

Smoking employees cost more and from an employer’s perspective, the ability to charge more could help offset that health care cost. Still, the addictive nature of smoking means such penalties are more of an incentive not to smoke than a reason to quit.

How does tobacco use impact employers’ costs?

Tobacco costs the U.S. $96 billion in health care expenditures and another $97 billion in lost productivity each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control. There is a huge opportunity for employers to find the right smoking cessation program for the organization. There is already incentive for many employees, as studies have found that 68 percent of smokers want to quit.

An example of the impact on cost is Illinois, which recently more than doubled its cigarette taxes. As a result, 72,700 Illinois kids will not become smokers and 53,400 adults will quit, according to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. In Missouri, voters will decide Nov. 6 whether cigarette taxes should be raised by 73 cents. HealthLink supports increasing the state cigarette tax, which is the lowest in the nation at 17 cents. Through the tax code, the health of the community will improve. Employers can do this on a smaller scale through an effective smoking cessation program.

Steve Martenet is president of HealthLink. Reach him at (314) 923-4474 or steve.martenet@wellpoint.com.

Insights Health Care is brought to you by HealthLink®

Published in Chicago

Some employers have focused on employee wellness for years, but others aren’t convinced it is to their benefit to get on board. Companies may fear that creating a wellness program will be complicated or expensive, but it doesn’t have to be either. Simple steps such as setting up walking groups or offering annual biometric screenings can yield significant results in health and productivity, says Daniel Meracle, an Employee Benefits Consultant and Wellness Adviser with Benefitdecisions, Inc.

“If you haven’t started, now is the time,” says Meracle. “Creating wellness programs can be easy, inexpensive and have a major impact on employee satisfaction, productivity and benefits costs for most employers.”

Smart Business spoke with Meracle about how to set up an employee wellness program and measure its results.

Where does a business start when considering a wellness program?

Start small by familiarizing employees with their numbers — blood pressure, weight and cholesterol,  then address how to get those in line. Instill that employees are responsible for knowing and owning their numbers and their overall health. Base your program on your goals. Start with results from biometric screenings. If cholesterol and weight are issues in your population, start a walking program. Form teams, have them use pedometers and connect progress to a goal.

How can you set realistic goals?

Determining realistic goals starts with understanding overall health risks in the organization. Begin with a biometric screening. For your initial measurement, consider a full 35 panel blood draw. Most wellness service companies or insurance carriers that administer these programs will create a detailed report card of the demographics and health risks of the population. The report has no identifiers but gives an aggregate overview of the participants. Goals should be set to improve the results around a specific health risk or around participation in wellness activities. Companies often create an internal wellness committee to develop contests and tap into resources provided by their insurer or a local hospital.

How do you deal with employees’ privacy concerns standing in the way of participation?

Stress early and often that results of the tests are confidential. A general report for the organization doesn’t mention employees by name, department or other identifiers. Some people won’t trust the process and won’t participate. You’re not going to get everyone to participate, especially in the first year.  However, the longer a commitment to wellness exists within a company and becomes part of the culture, the more people who will participate.

How else can you motivate employees? 

Incentives are effective in driving participation. For example, charging $50 to $100 a month on top of health benefits for those who do not participate is a strong motivator. There are also benefit plan design changes to address prevalent health issues. For example, if your employee base has a high diabetes population, consider reducing copays on diabetes medications, providing an incentive for people to manage their illness through medications.

Environmental changes can help, as well. Offering healthier options in vending machines, making your facility smoke-free and changing smoking breaks to health breaks encourages employees to change their behaviors.

Should a company contract with outside vendors, or create a plan internally? 

You could do either. Start by going to your insurance carrier, which will likely have departments dedicated to wellness programs. Your broker will also be able to point you toward proper resources.

How do you communicate the goals of the program and get employees engaged? 

A successful wellness program starts at the top. Employees look at what their managers are doing and if they are participating. The best programs have a senior-level person as the program champion.

The program champion should outline the goals from a culture and wellness perspective. The goals should be specific about timetables and when progress will be measured.

Recruit people for a wellness committee who want to help develop a culture of wellness. Ideas usually bubble up immediately because these people are already involved in their health and wellness and are eager to teach others. Communicate ideas about wellness through multiple channels, for example, emails, posters, talks, contests, etc.

Set the expectation with employees that they don’t need to be marathon runners; simpler goals such as healthier food choices, establishing an exercise routine, getting preventive medical care or learning about stress management will have a positive impact on your health insurance costs. Employees will feel better, be more productive and live better lifestyles.

How do you assess the program’s effectiveness, and how often should you evaluate it?

The first year sets the baseline for measurements. Beginning in the second year, and annually thereafter, you should see progress toward the goals. Reset your goals annually. It is also critical to provide continuous communication to employees and senior management about the program’s progress so they stay engaged and realize the benefits of the program.

Show employees what’s in it for them, such as an incentive. Tie rewards to your specific culture, as every organization is different. Behavioral changes are hard, but if you start small and keep building, people will actively participate when they are ready for change. Over time, your company will see the measurable results of your wellness program in benefits costs, employee satisfaction and engagement scores and reduction in absenteeism.

Daniel Meracle is an Employee Benefits Consultant and Wellness Adviser with Benefitdecisions, Inc. Reach him at (312) 376-0433 or dmeracle@benefitdecisions.com.

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

Published in Chicago

Current statistics show an average of three in five employers offer wellness programs, so it’s no surprise employers are seeking help from their benefits administrators and insurers to get employees interested and engaged.

“Getting employee participation and buy-in can be a struggle for some employers introducing a wellness program in their workplace,” says Marty Hauser, CEO of SummaCare, Inc.  “Fortunately, there are a few easy things you can do to increase your chances of having a successful program.”

Smart Business spoke to Hauser about things employers should consider to get employee buy-in and participation when implementing a new wellness program.

What is the most important factor when implementing a wellness program?

Before you commit to and implement a wellness program, make sure you have dedicated resources within your company who can give your wellness program the attention it needs and deserves. Coordinating a successful wellness program requires at least three to four hours of attention each week, and it means more than simply hanging or displaying posters and sharing health tips. Having an internal employee committed to sharing information about the wellness program, answering questions that may come up from other employees and acting as the ‘go-to’ person to assist with any necessary preparations for wellness-related events will increase your chances of having a successful program.

A successful and well-managed wellness program involves on-site activities, including events such as flu shot clinics, worksite wellness seminars, fairs and information sessions, and even group exercise classes.

It is also important to make sure you have more than just senior level buy-in; a wellness program requires time and attention from others in your company who can help make it happen.

How can I get employees in my company involved and committed to a wellness program?

Two questions we often receive from employers that have implemented wellness programs in their workplaces are, ‘Why are our programs not working?’ and, ‘Why are our employees not engaged?’ Simply put, wellness requires attention and nurturing, and a successful wellness program needs ‘cheerleaders’ to support it.

One way to get your employees involved and committed to a wellness program is to create a wellness committee comprising representatives from several areas or departments in your workplace. Forming a wellness committee that includes employees acting as representatives will allow for more feedback about the wellness program you are offering, while serving as a listening platform for challenges and questions among other employees in different areas of the company. These employees and committee members are great sounding boards for what is working and what isn’t, and they can help lead and coordinate the programs and services.

The other benefit of having employees on your wellness committee is that they, too, can and will encourage wellness and participation from their co-workers and friends. Co-workers are likely to support others who are leading wellness efforts, and these relationships can turn into future opportunities for wellness initiatives and activities, such as healthy brown bag lunch days, walking and weight-loss clubs and more.

What kind of wellness program is most popular and attractive to employees?

Wellness programs that offer incentives for participation are successful at getting employees involved. The fact is, people like — and sometimes expect — to be rewarded for good behavior. Offering perks for involvement can help give your wellness program longevity.

When incentives for participation are offered, employees are more likely to be motivated to participate, and this is especially true when the incentives for participation involve money. With this in mind, many employers are moving to an outcome-based rewards program that essentially gives employees the opportunity to earn money back on premiums they pay if certain pre-established wellness goals are met. Outcome-based rewards are popular incentives to influence the behavior of your employees and have a better chance at encouraging behavior and lifestyle changes because of the opportunity to ‘pay less’ for premiums. Because these rewards are often tied to employees’ paychecks and premiums paid for benefits, they are more likely to be motivated to participate when they see the effects of their participation — or lack thereof — on their regular pay stubs.

If you are interested in offering a wellness program that offers incentives and/or an outcome-based rewards program, it’s a good idea to start small and slowly cultivate your program based on employee feedback. In the first year or two, you can offer employees small incentives for participation in activities such as screenings and/or completion of a Health Risk Appraisal, and in the next couple years build up to an outcome-based rewards program with varying levels of rewards depending on goals met.

It’s also important to note that under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, beginning Jan. 1, 2014, employers will be permitted to offer employees rewards of up to 30 percent, potentially increasing to 50 percent, of the cost of coverage for participating in a wellness program and meeting certain health-related standards. This would give employees an even better incentive for living a healthy lifestyle, which, in turn, could give you greater employee engagement.

Regardless of what kind of wellness program you decide to implement, it is important to check with your legal department and labor laws before committing to any program.

The key to any successful program is the support it receives, as well as communicating the program to employees. Discuss your company’s culture and wellness goals with your benefits administrator or insurer so they can help you select a wellness program that is right for you.

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

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

Published in Akron/Canton

The workplace is where most adults typically spend half of their waking hours and can have a powerful impact on one’s health. Thanks to efforts in engaging employees in workplace wellness, many businesses are promoting healthier lifestyles while also reducing absenteeism, lowering health and workers’ compensation costs and improving employee health, morale and productivity.

To learn more, Smart Business turned to Tammie Brailsford, RN, MemorialCare Health System executive vice president and chief operating officer, whose passion for employee wellness has created an environment of improved health among the system’s 11,000 employees.

Why should businesses invest in wellness?

A healthy work force is the foundation for good business, as critical to your bottom line as the quality of products and services. To stem rising health costs and encourage healthier lifestyles, employers have been adding and expanding wellness programs. A University of Michigan study revealed health costs for a high-risk worker is three times that of a low-risk

employee. American Institute of Preventive Medicine reports 87.5 percent of health claim costs are due to lifestyle. Companies implementing wellness activities save from $3.48 to $5.42 for every dollar spent and

reduce absences 30 percent.

Costs can be minimal — from $50 to $500 or more per employee annually, plus incentives for health improvement. Instead of building a fitness center, offer employees a pedometer, mealtime walking programs and sessions on achieving better health. It’s as simple as selecting a salad, taking stairs or a 10-minute break to walk. Leadership involvement is critical to success. Your participation and engagement create ‘permission’ among employees to join the conversation and build health and wellness behaviors, like activity, into their daily work life.

What is the impact of overweight employees?

With nearly 70 percent of America’s work force overweight, businesses carry an additional $500 to $2,500 per employee in medical care and work loss totaling $50 billion in annual expenditures related to obesity alone. Expanding waistlines fuel increases in blood pressure and blood sugar levels, reaching epidemic proportions. The impact of too much weight on health quality and life expectancy is now equal to if not greater than smoking. Chronic diseases like hypertension, high blood pressure, diabetes, asthma and depression are responsible for two-thirds of the total increase in health care spending, taking an enormous toll on employees and their families.

Can you describe The Good Life?

As a health care system, we want to model a commitment to health and wellness. The Good Life program is at the heart of our efforts to build a culture of excellence that encourages employees to make healthier daily choices and improve their overall health. Initiatives include nutritious on-site food options, walking challenges, exercise classes, walking trails, weight reduction programs, gyms, smoke-free campuses, activity days, newsletters, work-life balance programs and more.

Other innovations include walking rather than sitting meetings, installing Wii sports stations to encourage activity during breaks and walking workstations. The latest evidence shows us that ongoing support of a dedicated onsite health coaching team can help employees with conditions like diabetes and hypertension make important life changes, lessen long-term complications and improve medical outcomes. Employees receive paycheck incentives by participating in confidential health assessments that help identify opportunities to improve health by setting and achieving personal goals. In the last year alone, employees walked 350,000 miles in walking challenges and achieved a combined total of 4,000 pounds in weight reduction.

What outcomes can wellness achieve?

Weight loss of as little as 5-10 percent can significantly impact cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar. For every pound lost by those overweight, there’s a 4-pound reduction in knee-joint stress load. That’s almost 5,000 pounds less stress on one group of employees’ knees. We will gladly share wellness best practices forged in our own programs with other businesses aiming to improve employee health and lower both company and employee health care expenses.

Where can an employer start?

You can begin with an employee wellness committee to plan initiatives with guidance from health professionals. Start with simple screenings to make employees aware of their blood pressure, weight, cholesterol numbers, nutritional habits and fitness levels. Get your work force walking during meals and breaks. Offer sessions that share advice, activities and coaching to reach and maintain goals. Identify employee advocates to motivate others to follow their lead. Engage employees’ families to extend healthy habits at home. Partner with local hospitals and heart, cancer and lung associations.

MemorialCare hospitals can help employers with information and resources on low- to no-cost screenings, prevention and healthy lifestyle sessions at your company as well as in the community. And Memorialcare.org provides a number of online health risk assessments and wellness tips on the journey to better health.

Tammie Brailsford, RN, is executive vice president and chief operating officer, MemorialCare Health System. The not-for-profit MemorialCare Health System includes Long Beach Memorial Medical Center, Miller Children’s Hospital Long Beach, Community Hospital Long Beach, Orange Coast Memorial Medical Center in Fountain Valley and Saddleback Memorial Medical Center in Laguna Hills and San Clemente. For additional information on excellence in health care, please visit memorialcare.org.

Published in Los Angeles

Employers today are experiencing escalating health care costs associated with the significant increase in health risk factors, such as obesity, chronic disease and an aging work force. The impact these conditions and others have on workers’ compensation costs is generally left out of the equation. Studies have shown that workplace wellness programs have the ability to generate a significant reduction in return-to-work days, frequency and severity of claims, as well as presenteeism or absenteeism and the cost of health care benefits. Depending on accepted metrics, the return on investment (ROI) for employers can reach $6.50 for each dollar of investment.

“Implementing workplace wellness programs not only can improve the health and well-being of Ohio’s employees, but also impacts one of the largest operational expenses for an employer, workers’ compensation premium. With grant monies now available from the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation (BWC), even small employers have the ability to access resources that usually only the larger employer can afford,” says Randy Jones, senior vice president, TPA Operations for CompManagement, Inc. Smart Business spoke with Jones about the monies that are now available for your business in Ohio.

Why did the BWC start this grant initiative?

To meet the challenges of obesity, rising incidence of chronic diseases, and the aging work force, BWC recently established a Workplace Wellness grant. The objectives are to limit and control the escalating cost of workers’ compensation claims through addressing these health risk factors as well as to reduce health care costs for employers and improve the health of Ohio’s work force.

In 2010, 25 to 29 percent of Ohio’s adult population was considered obese (body mass index equal to or greater than 30) and the largest percent of our work force was between the ages of 45 to 54. Research has shown these challenges contribute to increased incidence and cost of workplace accidents and illnesses.

Who is eligible to receive a grant?

All employers (public and private) participating in the state-funded workers’ compensation program are eligible for the grant. Self-insured employers are not eligible. The employer may not currently have a wellness program in place, which consists of a tool that measures health risk factors plus programs that are designed to address those factors. If an employer does not have a tool or a program or lacks both, they will qualify for grant funding. If however, the employer uses a tool and designs programs based on the results from the tool, the employer will not qualify at this time. As an example, if an employer currently offers a Health Risk Assessment (HRA) but does not create any programs from the results of the HRAs, the employer would be eligible for a grant.

How much money is available under the Workplace Wellness grant initiative?

BWC has allocated $4 million for the Workplace Wellness grants over a four-year period. Grants are available to employers up to $15,000 over four years, which will allow for up to 50 employee participants per employer and $300 per participating employee. The amount per employee is graduated each year as BWC takes employee participation into consideration when awarding and renewing the grant. These funds are intended to supplement the cost of a wellness program, not fully fund it.

How does the application work?

Applications are received and reviewed by BWC on a first come, first served basis. The application form is available on their website at www.ohiobwc.com/employer/programs/safety/WellnessGrants.asp. The major components of the application include a profile of your organization, an estimated budget for the workplace wellness plan, selection of a workplace wellness vendor, and a timeline for implementation of your program. A safety management self-assessment is also required.

What are the requirements for participation?

An employer must contract with a third party vendor that provides wellness program services in order to participate and submit an application to BWC. In addition, the employer must complete an online safety self-assessment, submit baseline data such as HRAs, biometrics, and a program plan within three months of receiving the grant funding, provide receipt documents, and submit an annual case study that explains what has been accomplished in creating and implementing a program as well as a plan for the upcoming year. Data elements pertaining to health risk factors such as cholesterol, blood pressure, etc. must also be reported annually in an aggregate format for all participating employees.

Why should my organization apply for this grant and implement a wellness program?

While workplace wellness programs help to reduce health risks, improve quality of life, and enhance personal effectiveness for your employees, studies show these programs also help to reduce workers’ compensation and disability costs for an employer by an average of 30 percent. This initiative is best suited for employers with measurable claims experience, a strong interest and desire to implement workplace safety and wellness programs, and a willingness to participate for four years.

How can my Third Party Administrator for workers’ compensation help with the process?

TPAs that provide safety services to their clients are well-suited to assist with this implementation. They will be able to develop occupational risk assessment tools as well as analyze data of health risk factors that contribute to the length and severity of incurred workers’ compensation claims. By linking safety and occupational health programs such as wellness together, an employer should see an overall reduction of workers’ compensation costs with enhanced employee morale and improved productivity.

Randy Jones is the senior vice president of TPA Operations for CompManagement, Inc. Reach him at (800) 825-6755, ext 2466 or Randy.Jones@sedgwickcms.com.

Published in Cincinnati
Tuesday, 01 March 2011 14:26

Keep sickness at bay

Today, more than ever before, employers are seeking an effective means of controlling growing health care expenses. Wellness programs allow employers to provide hands-on programs that benefit the overall health of their employees. These programs improve the lives of participants because they eliminate high-health-risk lifestyles.

According to many studies, more than 70 percent of all health care spending in the U.S. goes toward the treatment of chronic and preventable diseases. By offering employees the opportunity to assess and improve their health, employers can reduce their employees’ health problems and the skyrocketing costs of treating preventable conditions.

Corporate wellness programs are not new, but the model has drastically changed. Once viewed as an employee perk, wellness was considered offering free clinic screenings or giving away prizes to employees who had their blood pressure checked during their lunch hour. Employee participation was minimal as was the impact on the employer’s rising health care costs.

These types of programs — which simply offered already health-conscious employees a chance to further manage their health — are out. Today, a fully integrated wellness structure where employees are encouraged to take accountability is in. Old wellness programs were preaching to the choir, in that already healthy employees were the only ones participating. Today, employers are now realizing that positive health habits can be garnered through creative programs that engage all employees.

A benefit of implementing an incentive-based wellness program is its ability to transform the idea of health maintenance into something meaningful. Dr. Dee Edington, director of the Health Management Research Center at the University of Michigan, found that the average amount of health care spending for low-health-risk workers aged 35 to 44 in 2001 was $1,523. Workers who did not have their health screened and assessed via a wellness program spent — on average — $2,100, while employees who were labeled “high risk” spent approximately $4,530.

Employees also recognize the benefits of today’s wellness programs. Rather than finding resistance to these programs, many companies have seen enthusiastic buy-in; some companies have even seen employees ask for spousal participation. Because wellness programs are now viewed in a more positive light than ever before, companies nationwide are making the decision to integrate such programs within their employee benefits packages.

Companies we work with, both in Michigan and nationally, see an 85 to 95 percent participation rate. On average, when our clients implement wellness initiatives, about 75 percent of them are experiencing flat or negative trending in their health care costs, while the remaining 25 percent have seen cost increases of less than 10 percent. Those that saw increases typically had more employees with more than two health risks, and they expect their costs will continue to improve as their employees work to become healthier.

Companies interested in developing and implementing a wellness program are advised to discuss the option with a benefits specialist to gauge and understand how to fully incorporate wellness into their overall benefit design.

Because wellness programs can be as diverse as employees, there isn’t just one way to implement them. Success is dependent upon changing corporate culture to support and encourage employees to be healthy; companies that develop policies and procedures that support a healthier staff can assist employees with taking wellness into their own hands. Overall, creating an environment that highlights the benefits of adhering to a healthier lifestyle will, in turn, help your company achieve results. <<

David Zick is the president of Michigan-based Group Associates Inc., a nationwide leader in proprietary benefit management solutions, offering companies resources to meet their benefit administration and brokerage needs. For information, please visit www.groupassociates.com or call (248) 593-2000.

Published in Detroit

There’s great reason for hope on the heart disease front. Never before have there been so many options for diagnosis, treatment and recovery. Two-thirds of adults survive the disease — 27 percent more than a decade ago, and impressive new technologies and techniques show tremendous promise.

While progress is impressive and risk factors well known, more Americans continue to die from heart failure than any other disease. While hereditary factors play a role, poor lifestyle choices remain the main culprit.

To learn more, Smart Business turned to Robert Greenfield, M.D., a cardiologist and lipidologist and the medical director of Non-Invasive Cardiology at Orange Coast Memorial Medical Center; and Jason Shen, M.D., a Board Certified Cardiologist at Saddleback Memorial Medical Center.

What risk factors are most prevalent?

Smoking, obesity, sedentary lifestyles and heavy consumption of saturated fats and trans fats are prevalent among too many Americans. These negatively impact cholesterol counts and blood pressure levels and can cause dangerous plaque build-up in coronary arteries. Too often, these are adopted by children who mirror their parents’ unhealthy habits. With one in three children and teens in California overweight, the elevated number of kids with risk factors for heart disease — high body-mass index, glucose intolerance, elevated blood pressure and high cholesterol — translates into higher risks of chronic disease as an adult. That’s why family fitness is essential.

How can risks be minimized?

Studies show that lowering cholesterol and treating high blood pressure reduce the risk of dying of heart disease, having a non-fatal heart attack and needing heart bypass surgery or angioplasty. Preventive measures include maintaining an appropriate weight and eating foods low in cholesterol and fat. Reducing stress, controlling blood pressure and exercising regularly are important, as well as getting regular check-ups and screenings and following a doctor’s advice.

How do heart attack symptoms vary among men and women?

For women — more of whom die of heart disease than men — symptoms can be so subtle they may not suspect they’re in trouble. Symptoms may include nausea, dizziness, uncomfortable pressure, tightness or heaviness in the chest that doesn’t go away quickly; cold sweats or pounding heart; pain radiating up the shoulders or neck or down the arms or back; difficulty breathing; and/or shortness of breath. Men, on the other hand, tell us they experience a crushing chest pain, as if an elephant were sitting on their chest.

What advances are available locally?

The residents of Orange County are fortunate to have access to world class heart care. Advanced and innovative diagnostic technologies, treatments and rehabilitation for heart disease are the norm at MemorialCare hospitals. These include open heart surgery, angioplasty, stenting and device implantation such as internal defibrillators and pacemakers. In addition, heart and vascular services offer catheter ablation, rehabilitation and centers for cardiac care for women. We are among just a few designated cardiac paramedic receiving centers in Orange County with emergency treatment times that beat the national average.

MemorialCare Heart & Vascular Institute at Orange Coast Memorial is the region’s first hospital, and one of a handful in the U.S., to introduce a Hybrid Cardiovascular Interventional Suite. This revolutionary approach to heart care allows our cardiac specialists to provide both interventional treatments and surgery in one suite, reducing procedure time and stress on patients. Based on diagnosis and condition, we may provide angiography, angioplasty, bypass surgery or combinations of these treatments in the Hybrid Suite.

Saddleback Memorial is a pioneer in beating heart surgery, which is surgery performed without stopping the heart. This can result in better preservation of heart function, reduced hospital stays and quicker recoveries. We received the American Heart Association’s Get With The Guidelines Heart Failure Gold Performance Award, honoring our achievements in attaining stringent guidelines for treating heart failure patients. Our advances continue with the new center dedicated to managing heart disease and other chronic conditions.

How can we create a healthier workplace?

Current research reveals that a healthy lifestyle is your best defense against many diseases. This means that the workplace can be the source to better health. Employers, including MemorialCare, offer programs and screenings for employees that includes nutrition education, exercise tips and organized health activities, such as break times for walking groups. They can provide healthy lifestyle choices by ensuring there is an availability of a variety of choices of fruits, vegetables and nutritious foods in vending machines and eating places.

The Memorialcare.com website offers health tools and calculators that help evaluate risks for a number of diseases. It is a resource for health guides for heart attack symptoms, heart-healthy eating and women’s wellness. MemorialCare hospitals offer prevention programs and heart evaluations at your worksite and other convenient locations.

Robert Greenfield, M.D., is a cardiologist, lipidologist and medical director of Non-Invasive Cardiology at Orange Coast Memorial Medical Center.

Jason Shen, M.D., is a board certified cardiologist at Saddleback Memorial Medical Center. The not-for-profit MemorialCare Health System includes Long Beach Memorial Medical Center, Miller Children’s Hospital Long Beach, Orange Coast Memorial Medical Center in Fountain Valley and Saddleback Memorial Medical Center in Laguna Hills and San Clemente. For additional information on excellence in health care, please visit memorialcare.org.

Published in Orange County