Choosing the right health coaching program for your employees

It’s a fact that 75 percent of employer health care costs are the result of chronic diseases that have unhealthy behaviors as their root cause, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“The key to bringing down those health care costs? Change the behaviors that lead to the chronic diseases,” says Amanda Budzowski, MS, MPH, CHES, senior manager of Clinical Training & Development at UPMC WorkPartners and UPMC Health Plan.

“The question is, how? How to get employees to lose weight, eat better, get more active or stop smoking?” she says. “How to help them better manage their diabetes, high blood pressure or heart disease?”

And the answer is: With help from a health coach.

“It turns out that many health insurance companies are now offering health coaching free to their members. That’s great news for employers,” Budzowski says.

Smart Business spoke with Budzowski about how to set up a coaching program to help change the employee behaviors that lead to chronic diseases.

What’s important to include in a successful health coaching program?

With health coaching, employees and family members can work one-on-one, usually by phone or email, with a trained expert in behavior change. Research confirms that health coaching works.

When assessing a health plan’s health coaching services, look for:

  • Lifestyle expertise: The health coaching team should be able to help your employees with lifestyle challenges, such as losing weight, eating healthier, quitting smoking, increasing activity and lowering stress.
  • Health condition expertise: Health coaches should also have expertise in managing conditions such as diabetes, asthma, low back pain, depression and heart disease.
  • Comprehensive staffing: To ensure your employees are in good hands, the health coaching team should have licensed nurses, counselors, social workers, registered dietitians and exercise physiologists — preferably with medical director oversight.
  • Accessibility: Some health insurance companies can actually supply health coaches to your job site. Short of that, look for health coaches to be available full-time on weekdays via phone, email or live chat, with accessibility for teletype devices for the deaf, hard of hearing or speech-impaired.

What else should employers keep in mind?

Effective health coaching doesn’t happen by accident. It should follow a process much like this:

1) Health coach meets with client to define their personal wellness vision.

2) Health coach and client explore strengths and past successes as well as anticipated challenges and barriers.

3) Health coach and client determine health goals.

4) Health coach and client co-create solutions and a customized plan to get there.

5) Health coach checks in frequently to help client stay motivated and accountable.

6) Health coach celebrates with client when goal is accomplished.

Health coaching is a highly effective tool for changing the behaviors that lead to the chronic diseases that significantly increase employer health care costs. That’s why it’s so important to choose the right health coaching program for your employees.

Are there any secrets to getting employees to use a health coach?

There is a new strategy out there that is having a big impact on health coach usage, and that’s when a person’s doctor recommends health coaching. It’s one thing if a person self-directs to a health coach or if a health insurance company recommends the health coach, but it’s a different deal altogether if the recommendation comes from the doctor.

People believe their doctors and doctors get to know their patients over time. So there’s a relationship of trust that forms. Therefore, when a doctor says to a patient that it would helpful if he or she got some guidance and motivation from a health coach, that recommendation goes a long way. The patient is more likely to take action and sign on.

Insights Health Care is brought to you by UPMC Health Plan

How technology connects doctors with patients and saves money

In today’s age of on-the-go technology, consumers expect to be able to get the information or services they need quickly — often with just a click of a button. For many consumers, this includes how they receive medical services.

“As technology evolves, the way we communicate is evolving as well,” says Susan Lehne, acting manager at HealthLink. “This is true for how patients communicate with their doctors, which also could represent a cost-savings to an employer’s health plan.”

Smart Business spoke with Lehne about technology advancements in health care and what that means for employers and their health plans.

How has technology changed the way people communicate with their doctors?

Technology has drastically affected the way we communicate over the past decade. From email, text messaging, instant messaging and video chatting, we now have quicker, more on-demand options for how we communicate with each other.

With these advancements, there has also been a change in people’s expectations. For example, if someone’s preferred method of communication is email, they expect their doctor’s office to be able to communicate with them in that same manner.

As technology evolves, more people are questioning the status quo. Like any other good or service they purchase, they expect to have options when it comes to where and how they receive medical services. Why should someone have to leave their home or their office to talk to a doctor for a minor cold? People expect everyday activities, like going to the doctor, to become quicker, easier and more efficient because of technology.

What kind of programs capitalize on technological advancements?

Programs such as telemedicine, video chat and 24-hour nurse lines all capitalize on the latest technology. They are designed to make it quicker and easier for people to have their health care needs met via non-traditional methods.

Patients can now receive professional, effective and convenient care through access to nurses and on-demand consultations with U.S. board-certified doctors available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, without driving to the doctor’s office. These programs treat a variety of common ailments such as cold and flu, sinus infections and bronchitis, and in some cases, can even prescribe medicine.

Technology-based programs will never entirely replace face-to-face appointments for patients who prefer that experience, or in emergencies, but they can be a great option to get the care you need without leaving your home or work.

How can these programs help save employers money?

Technology-based consults cost less than a normal office visit, retail health or urgent care visit, and they can save hundreds of dollars over a trip to the emergency room (ER).

Often, these programs can be set up on a per use basis, meaning if an employee doesn’t use the benefit, the employer doesn’t pay for it. There may also be an option to include a co-pay, which means the employee covers some of the costs of the visit.

These programs can play a big role in avoiding unnecessary utilization and ER visits by helping employees decide where to go for care.

Are these products hard to implement?

Not at all. Implementing these programs usually only involves a little employee education.

Employers should check with their third party administrator or network partner about the tools and resources available for implementation. There is an array of marketing materials that can be used to educate employees and ensure the program is a success.

Insights Health Care is brought to you by HealthLink

Employee health and organizational health are intertwined

All organizations want to create a workplace where its employees are healthy, productive and strong performers, says Stephen T. Doyle, senior director of Strategic Health Management Solutions at WorkPartners, an affiliate of UPMC Health Plan.

But what does it take for employees to meet these goals?

Smart Business spoke with Doyle about UPMC’s Health and Productivity Performance Index (HaPPI), which can help employers understand what environmental and cultural factors within the workplace support employee health and well-being, and organizational success.

What is HaPPI? How does it work?

HaPPI gives companies a sense of all the facets that contribute to the culture of health within their organization. UPMC developed HaPPI as an industry best practice measurement instrument, drawing from several validated industry assessments as well as from internal UPMC and external industry experts.

HaPPI assesses three domains: culture and environment; programs and health; and roles, responsibility and rewards. Clients receive an aggregate score as well as an analysis of their company’s strengths and weaknesses in each category. This final report compares the company’s performance to companies of similar size and industry. It also includes specific recommendations and an action plan for improvement.

Why do those three domains help determine employee health and productivity?

Culture and environment — The physical environment of the workplace greatly influences employee behavior. This category measures everything from offering healthy options in the company cafeteria and vending machines to the evaluation of the ergonomics of employee workstations. When evaluating culture, you must also include informal practices that influence behavior. For example, do morale-building activities often involve high-calorie treats? These habits and practices can unintentionally encourage unhealthy behaviors.

Programs and health — Take an assessment of the nutrition, physical activity, stress management, tobacco cessation, weight management, disease management and behavioral health programs available to employees. Also, consider how many employees participate and whether there are metrics to evaluate the health outcomes and success of these programs.

Roles, responsibilities and rewards — This category looks at an organization’s policies on everything from health benefits to disability leave to how employees are compensated for their performance. For example, giving employees paid time off, or PTO, as opposed to a bank of sick days encourages them to take care of themselves to avoid illness so they enjoy their days off. When employees know that they will only get paid at 60 percent of their salary when they go on disability (as opposed to 100 percent) they’re more likely to take steps to limit their time away from work.

The structure of medical benefits also influences employee behavior. When workers pay a portion of their medical care and gain a greater understanding of health care costs, they tend to become more motivated to stay healthy and avoid unnecessary medical services.

Other factors — Tuition reimbursement, opportunities to increase skills and being eligible for bonuses tied to performance also play a role in creating a healthy workforce. When employees feel that their employer is invested in them and that their performance makes a difference, they are likely to be healthier and more productive.

The bottom line? The health of your employees and your organization are intertwined. Becoming aware of key features that influence the health of your organization is the first step to creating a workplace that will continue to thrive in the ever-evolving marketplace.

Insights Health Care is brought to you by UPMC Health Plan

Follow these tips for your next open enrollment

Open enrollment is a period each year when employees can sign up for their company-sponsored health plan, and as the insurance industry has changed, open enrollment has, too.

“The importance of open enrollment and the enrollment process have changed significantly over the years,” says Carla M. Flamm, sales and retention executive at HealthLink, Inc. “With all the new laws, extensions and even the increased use of electronic filing tools, open enrollment can be quite complicated for the average employer.”

For some employers, this complication is too much to add to their ever-growing list of to-dos, so they opt for the bare minimum open enrollment process. However, by not taking advantage of the unique educational opportunities open enrollment can offer, employers may be missing a chance to help save money for the plan and for their employees.

Smart Business spoke with Flamm about five tips to help employers with open enrollment.

1) Start early

The most prepared employers start planning for open enrollment four to five months before it starts. Employers should start by working with their broker, third party administrator (TPA) and network partner to examine the current plan and its performance. From there, employers can consider changes to make next year’s plan more effective.

Employers should also start planning for the actual enrollment process. They need to make some big decisions early on, such as whether or not they will require each employee to go through the enrollment process so they can collect updated information, or if only employees with changes need to re-enroll.

2) Collaborate with your partners

Employers should work collaboratively with their broker, TPA and network partner to plan for open enrollment early. Together, they should evaluate claim history and spending trends to determine if benefit changes are necessary. They should also compare the current plan offering to similar companies to determine how competitive the benefits are. These partners should be an employer’s trusted go-to resource for ensuring the health plan offering and open enrollment process meets all industry standards and regulations.

3) Educate employees

After making initial benefit decisions, employers should be diligent about educating their employees of their options, any changes that may affect them and how to make good purchasing decisions. Employers should consider giving employees educational materials that focus on selecting a plan that is right for them by encouraging them to evaluate components such as deductibles and out-of-pocket maximums, instead of focusing solely on premiums.

4) Be proactive with information

Employers should send benefit and educational materials to employees no later than two to three weeks prior to open enrollment. Employees need time to be familiar with this information so that they’re prepared to ask questions and make their selections during the open enrollment period. Don’t wait for employees to ask for these pieces, get them out as soon as possible. Proactive education means HR departments can spend more time enrolling employees in their plan and less time answering questions.

5) Consider a health fair

Hosting a health fair is the best way to optimize the open enrollment period and ensure success. Employees can get the information they need to make the best choice for them, and employers can take advantage of the face-to-face time to complete health and wellness screenings and enroll employees onsite, eliminating confusion and saving time. Employers that offer these fairs should be sure that every component of the health plan, including medical, dental, life and disability, etc., are present at the event so employees have a complete understanding. These events should be easy and convenient for employees to attend, with a potential incentive for attending.

Insights Health Care is brought to you by HealthLink

What employers need to know as opioid problems hit the workplace

The opioid epidemic has reached every corner of society, including the workplace. This epidemic involves the use of prescription opioid (pain) medications, illicit drugs like heroin or fentanyl, or mixing opioid drugs.

According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine, opioid problems cost employers around $10 billion annually from absenteeism. Unfortunately, only a small percentage of those with opioid problems ask for help or receive it.

In recognition of National Recovery Month, Smart Business spoke with Dennis C. Daley, Ph.D., senior clinical director at UPMC Health Plan, who has more than 30 years of experience in clinical care and addiction research, about what employers need to know about this growing issue.

How prevalent is opioid misuse or addiction in the workplace? What can employers do for someone struggling with addiction?

Opioid misuse and addiction has reached all levels of the workplace — it doesn’t distinguish between gender, race, geographic location or income bracket. About 5 percent or more of the population has misused opioids in the past month and over 2 million have an opioid use disorder. Opioid misuse can involve not taking medications as prescribed, taking too much, mixing opioids with other drugs such as sedatives, giving or selling opioid pills to family or friends, or using another person’s prescribed opioids. Many people with an opioid addiction have other substance and mental health problems, which makes recovery more challenging.

Employers can support employees who may have an opioid problem or are affected by a family member’s issue, but it isn’t a supervisor’s job to diagnose the problem. If managers witness increased absences, decreased work output or out-of-the-ordinary behavior, they should focus on tangible behaviors and let the employee know these issues are causing concern.

How can employers address the issue?

The best-case scenario is an employee assistance program (EAP). Companies of all sizes can contract with an EAP, which is sometimes separate and sometimes a component of health insurance. EAPs often have clinicians and therapists on staff. They offer assistance in assessing problems, providing counseling, referrals, and training and education. If a manager suspects a problem, he or she can either contact the EAP directly or strongly suggest the employee seek help with an EAP.

It also can be difficult to maintain focus at work if you’re worried about a family member using drugs. Having a loved one suffer with an opioid or other substance problem affects millions of workers.

How else can an EAP help with opioid or other drug problems?

EAP experts will provide specific policies and procedures that can be shared at all levels of the organization. That way, employees know where to go for help if they are concerned about their own drug use or a family member’s substance use. EAPs are confidential. The EAP only divulges to the employer that the employee made contact and that there is a plan in place.

What do you tell employers without an EAP?

Work with your HR director and investigate an EAP. It is easy and inexpensive to partner with one and it takes a huge burden off of your managers and HR staff. There are also local treatment agencies, free or low-cost clinics, private therapists, websites such as, and community support groups like Narcotic Anonymous or Nar-Anon for families. At a minimum, employers should list these resources on the company website, bulletin boards or in the lunchroom.

What else should we know about opioid abuse and the workplace?

Although alcohol problems are more prevalent, opioid problems have substantially increased in the past several years. Prescription opioid use is declining, but more young people are transferring their addiction to illicit street drugs like heroin.

Employees struggling with opioid or other substance problems are not weak or morally corrupt, but they often need help accepting they have a problem or getting involved in treatment or recovery. Employers have an important role to play — they can help recognize the signs of a problem and then get treatment moving in the right direction.

Insights Health Care is brought to you by UPMC Health Plan

How to talk to your employees about their health

In today’s dynamic health care market, employers continue to look for new ways to curb spending and regain control of their health plan investment. For some employers, this means going directly to the source of the spending: their employees.

“Healthy employees are happier and more productive,” says Bridgette Bock, sales and retention executive at HealthLink, Inc. “Plus, without employee engagement, health and wellness and cost reduction programs are not effective. That’s why more employers are trying to make an impact by talking to their employees about their health.”

Smart Business spoke with Bock about strategies for talking to your employees about their health.

Why is it important to communicate with your employees about their health?

Communicating with your employee population about their health and different strategies for staying healthy is important because it helps keep the cost of care down. The typical consumer is not in the health care industry, so they may not be aware of the impact that their health has on their out-of-pocket health care spending or the impact it has on the cost of the health plan.

Employers that educate their employees about the available programs and services as well as best practices for staying healthy tend to have more success with their cost management strategies. Employers also have the unique opportunity to help their employees become more educated consumers by encouraging them to shop around and ask questions they may not have thought of on their own.

Do today’s employers have more of a responsibility to do this?

Absolutely. When an employer self-funds their health plan, it’s their money paying the claims, so they usually have more of a stake in keeping costs down. Self-funded employers are more likely to promote different incentive programs to engage employees and control costs.

However, with today’s rising cost of health care, even employers with fully-insured health plans should be taking an active role in talking to their employees about their health and educating them about the effect it has on costs.

What information is often misunderstood or not communicated when it comes to health and wellness plans?

Many employees don’t know that the majority of health plans cover standard wellness/preventive services at 100 percent, meaning there is no out-of-pocket cost to them. Employees also wrongly assume that if they never go to the doctor for a checkup, they’re saving money for the health plan. In reality, these employees may cost the health plan even more if they end up with health issues that could have been detected and treated through preventive visits.

Transparency is another topic that is getting more attention, but is still often misunderstood. Employees should be aware of the different transparency tools available to help them determine the costs of services so they can shop around and select the doctor or facility that is right for them.

What are the best methods and means to reach employees?

When deciding which methods may be most successful in reaching employees, it’s best to look directly at the employee population. Who are they? What do they do? Where are they located?

Employers should communicate with employees via the means that is best for the employees. For example, a large company with a diverse employee population may depend on the company intranet site or blog to distribute information. A smaller company may find that posting information in the break room is most effective. The method of communication should be unique to the workforce.

What else should business owners know?

Effective cost management entails more than simply adding a product to your health plan. Engagement really is key to success.

Employees should also understand that just because a doctor or hospital takes your insurance, it doesn’t necessarily mean they are in-network for your plan. If nothing else, an employer should educate their employees about the tools available to them to find in-network doctors and alternatives to the emergency room.

Insights Health Care is brought to you by HealthLink

How population health management can save you big money

The Integrated Benefits Institute recently reported that poor health costs the U.S. economy nearly $600 billion per year, with a significant chunk of that cost coming from lost productivity.

But employers are fighting back. One way is by incorporating population health management (PHM) into a benefits package. PHM is an increasingly popular and powerful tool that helps employers to rein in employee health care costs.

Smart Business spoke with Marion McGowan, Ph.D., chief clinical officer and senior vice president of population health at UPMC Insurance Services Division, about how PHM can help lower health care costs and raise employee productivity.

What exactly is PHM?

Population health refers to the specific illnesses or health problems that exist within a targeted group, such as the employees of a particular company. Managing population health involves developing interventions, incentives and other strategies that lead to better individual health.

Interestingly, this trend represents a sea change among employers. In today’s workplace, making use of PHM extends the responsibility and interests of the employer beyond just providing salary and benefits.

Why is PHM important to employers?

Many employers see improving workforce health as a key to long-term cost management. Healthy employees translate into more productive employees. With the right PHM program, employers often see more engaged employees who enjoy increased levels of job satisfaction. The goal is to try to prevent those who are well from becoming ill, while improving the quality of life and enhancing health outcomes for those who have developed chronic conditions.

Should employers ask their health insurance company about PHM?

Employers absolutely should ask about PHM. They need to know the value they’re getting and that their employees are getting the right care. The chief cost drivers in any insurance plan are the sickest employees.

A good PHM strategy can help anticipate the needs of the employees who use health care the most. It can also tailor interventions to help curtail unplanned and costly care, and help employees with chronic conditions get the preventive care they need before it becomes more expensive for everyone.

What if your health insurer doesn’t provide this? Can employers still buy it?

There are two types of PHM. One is an integrated program and the other is a stand-alone. The integrated approach connects data, such as pharmacy, dental, vision and disability information to an employer’s population health platform. That platform may include clinical and disease-management programs. Analytics transform health data into real insights that give a more complete picture of employee health. It also helps identify potential gaps in care. This allows for earlier intervention for people who are at risk for health issues or who may have chronic conditions.

How does that approach compare with the stand-alone management?

A stand-alone PHM program is a vendor solution that provides data analytics, care coordination and employee engagement tools. This type of PHM identifies and stratifies the risk in the employer group with the goal of improving clinical outcomes and financial results. These stand-alone PHMs tend to be costly and aren’t always the most effective route.

In terms of overall employer costs, is it worth it to invest in a PHM program?

Growing evidence suggests the investment is worth it. The ROI for a PHM program ranges from $1.40 to as much as $13 in benefits per dollar spent on the program.

Does a PHM program make sense for smaller companies?

Because of the dollars large employers have at their disposal, they are most involved in PHM programs. But it’s arguably even more important for small companies. In a small company with only a few employees, one person with a chronic disease can skew the cost curve and risk pool dramatically.

Whether it’s a large corporation or small family-run business, every employer has the opportunity to positively affect the health of its employees.

Insights Health Care is brought to you by UPMC Health Plan

How self-funding can help correct health care purchasing mistakes

Business owners may feel helpless when it comes to health care because it can seem as if it’s beyond their control. However, self-funded health insurance can actually correct some of the biggest health care purchasing mistakes.

Smart Business spoke with Susan French, director of marketing at HealthLink Inc., about why self-funding may be the answer to your health care concerns.

Mistake 1: Not knowing how much you pay for health care.

Many senior leaders don’t know the itemized cost of health care services used by their employees, even though it’s one of their biggest expenses.

With a fully insured health plan, employers pay a predetermined premium amount to cover medical services for their employees, whether they receive them or not. This leaves most employers without real knowledge of where premiums are being spent. With a self-funded arrangement, employers only pay for the medical services — or claims — that their employees actually receive. Employers who choose to self-fund their employee health plan receive an itemized bill for all the claims incurred by their employees, so they know exactly how much they’re spending and where the money is being spent.

Mistake 2: Believing that health care spending is out of your hands or is just the cost of doing business.

The flexibility that comes with self-funded arrangements makes them ideal for effectively using cost management strategies to save money for the health plan and employees. Employers that self-fund have access to detailed claim and utilization data that they can use to determine where they are incurring the most costs. Employers can sit down with their broker, third party administrator (TPA) or network partner to examine if there is an issue or lack of benefits at the root of high costs.

After there is a solid understanding of where health care dollars are being spent, there is an opportunity to better predict these costs and implement cost containment programs to control health care spending like never before.

While fully insured health plans also feature cost containment strategies, these programs and services remain under the control of the insurance carrier. For some employers, this is ideal. They prefer to take a more hands-off approach by simply paying a monthly premium and letting the carrier take care of the rest.

A self-funded arrangement is more hands-on. Cost containment strategies can be customized specifically to meet the unique needs of the employee group. In the end, the decision of which programs and services to implement, and how to structure the health plan, is up to the employer, not the carrier.

Mistake 3: Being in breach of your fiduciary duty to protect a health plan’s assets.

In a self-funded arrangement, transparency starts with the availability of clinical and financial data that employers can use to uncover utilization trends, high-risk members, inappropriate and/or costly treatments and plan waste. With a self-funded health plan, this data belongs to the employer. They have full access to it and the conclusions that come from it.

In addition, many network providers have developed transparency initiatives designed to help employers and their employees become more educated health care consumers. Tools that help employees look at the costs associated with different procedures and/or facilities, and tools to help employees decide which level of care is appropriate are examples of transparency tools that may be available through different network providers.

Mistake 4: Undervaluing human resources.

An HR department can be an invaluable resource when it comes to selecting and implementing an employee health plan. Often the HR department may have additional insights into the needs of the employee group, which can be useful when determining which benefits should be included in the health plan. The HR department should also be the go-to resource for educating employees and answering questions during open enrollment. Engaging the HR department during the decision-making process and having their buy-in can have a positive impact on the health plan.

Insights Health Care is brought to you by HealthLink

Sitting is the new smoking: How to fit activity into your workday

The prevalence of sitting jobs has risen 83 percent in the U.S. since 1950, according to the American Heart Association. The result? Employees are spending a lot more time being sedentary each day.

You may think that all of those hours you spend sitting at your desk are unhealthy. And they are — sitting for more than three to four hours a day may take valuable years off of your life.

Research is clear that sitting for long periods of time each day over many years can increase a person’s risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, depression, higher levels of stress, as well as neck and lower-back pain.

Smart Business spoke with Dr. William Shrank, chief medical officer at UPMC Health Plan, to learn more about what many experts are calling, “sitting is the new smoking.”

What are the benefits of standing?

Simply standing more each day provides overall health benefits and increases work productivity among employees. For example, research shows that you burn 30 percent more calories when you’re standing than when you’re sitting.

Standing more each day can also help improve posture, increase blood flow, rev your metabolism, and increase your energy and alertness.

How can employers encourage some small moves for big benefits?

Here are some quick and easy changes employees can make at work to improve their health and productivity — starting today:

  • Go vertical: Take the stairs instead of the elevator as you enter and exit the office each day and get in the habit of walking up the escalator instead of standing.
  • Take frequent detours: Take an extra lap or two around the office on your way to the restroom, coffee pot or printer.
  • Communicate like it’s 1989: Instead of sending emails to your co-workers, walk to their desks on a regular basis.
  • Make it automatic: Find an app for your phone or computer that prompts you to get up from your chair every 30 minutes and move around.
  • Track your steps: Fitness trackers or basic pedometers measure the amount of steps you take each day. Keep a log of your steps and push yourself to get a few extra steps each day.
  • Take breaks: Get in the habit of taking micro-breaks, such as standing while talking on the phone. Better yet, make it a point to walk for at least 10 minutes every day at lunch time.
  • Sit up straight: Proper posture while sitting is important for your overall musculature. Check your posture and remember to roll back your shoulders, squeeze your shoulder blades together, engage your core and straighten your back.
  • Toss it farther away: Move your trash or recycling bin away from your desk so you have to take a few extra steps.
  • Have mobile meetings: Instead of sitting in a conference room for a 30-minute meeting with colleagues, turn it into a walking meeting.
  • Give up your seat: Choose to stand on public transportation rather than sit.

What are other ways to encourage less sitting and more activity, long term?

Corporate wellness programs help employees to start fitting more activity into their workday. And it’s important to keep that momentum going over weeks, months and years.

One key is for employees to tap into their essential motivation for wanting to get more active. It’s often not enough to simply say that you should exercise more, or should burn more calories or should get a standing desk. Many employees need more tangible and basic reasons, such as wanting more energy or focus during their workday. Or perhaps they want to lose five pounds in the next month or want to be able to keep up with their kids or grandkids at the park.

For extra motivation to help employees to get more active each day, check with your health care plan to see if they offer health coaches that will help to guide your staff and stay on track with their activity goals. These health coaches can provide extra motivation for you to get up and go.

Insights Health Care is brought to you by UPMC Health Plan

Add maternity management to help cut costs and raise productivity

Integrating a maternity management program into a health plan is a win-win for moms-to-be and employers. Employees and employee spouses who are pregnant or planning to become pregnant can join the program to get the support they need to help them have healthier pregnancies and healthier babies.

“Every pregnancy is unique, that is why maternity management programs offer personalized support from the start of the pregnancy until after the birth of the baby,” says Judy Dawson, HealthLink sales and retention executive. “This support can help keep pregnant employees healthy, reduce their need for unscheduled or emergent care and keep their medical costs down.”

Smart Business spoke with Dawson about the benefits of maternity management.

What are the overall goals of a maternity management program?

The No. 1 goal of a maternity management program is to reduce risks associated with preterm delivery and low birth weight, and encourage employees to be more active in health-related decisions during pregnancy. To achieve this, the program focuses on educating and supporting pregnant employees from prenatal to newborn care.

Employees who enroll are sent educational materials and can receive customized help from nurse care managers so they can understand what is best for them and their babies. They also get access to a 24-hour, toll-free nurse line so they can connect with someone who can answer their questions or direct them to their best option for care.

How does a maternity management program impact employees?

A maternity management program can have a great impact on an employee’s pregnancy and her newborn. Once they join the program, they are assigned a nurse care manager who can provide a number of services, including giving moms-to-be information on healthy eating and exercise, providing education and information on labor options, helping smokers quit, checking for health risks, screening for depression during and after pregnancy, and more.

Every service is focused on healthier moms and healthier babies and can be customized to fit the unique needs of the mom-to-be. The educational materials alone can really impact the decisions a pregnant employee makes during the course of her pregnancy and delivery — and the added support can make a big difference in helping parents-to-be feel prepared and confident as they approach parenthood. For employees who may not have all the support they need at home, a maternity management program can make a huge impact.

What are the benefits to the employer?

Like many supplementary cost-management programs, a maternity management program can help employees achieve optimal health outcomes in a cost-effective and timely manner. This can lower costs for the plan and for the employee. A variety of studies show that maternity management can lower inpatient costs, reduce the number of low-birth-weight babies that require additional care and lower neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) costs by reducing NICU admissions.

In addition to the cost-reduction benefits, offering a maternity management program is a great way to provide additional support to employees as they go through a series of life-changing events. When employees feel supported, it can boost morale and even productivity, and in the case of moms-to-be, it can positively impact their overall health and their transition back into the workforce.

What else should employers know?

Maternity management programs may not be a good fit for all companies. Employers should consider the potential impact offering the program will have on employees before implementing a maternity management program. For example, if a company has a largely older or all-male population, it may not make sense to add the program. Many maternity management programs are purchased on a per employee per month, or PEPM, basis, so it’s important for employers to determine if the outcome is worth the investment.

Employers should talk to their broker or network partner to explore all of their health and wellness and cost management options.


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