3 Questions Featured

8:00pm EDT May 26, 2009

Barry Arbuckle is president and CEO of MemorialCare Medical Centers and immediate past chair of the California Hospital Association. MemorialCare, a Southern California health care system with more than 10,000 employees and 3,300 medical staff members, has annual revenue of more than $1.5 billion. Under Arbuckle’s leadership, MemorialCare has experienced unprecedented growth and financial performance and has grown in prominence nationally. Arbuckle is also chair of the Board of National Healthcare Services, a for-profit division of MemorialCare targeting private equity investments in health care.

Q. Do wellness programs have an impact on insurance costs to employers?

Good health is good business. The goal of employer wellness programs is to promote healthy lifestyles and improve and achieve control of illness, medical conditions and unhealthy behaviors before they become more serious and costly. For example, nearly 70 percent of the U.S. work force is overweight, and each of those employees costs American business an additional $500 to $2,500 in medical expenditures and work loss for a total of $45 billion in annual costs related to obesity alone. Keeping employees healthy with preventive and wellness programs can dramatically impact the price of health benefits. 

Q. What can employers do to promote healthier habits of their employees?

Create a culture of wellness. Do something, and it will make a difference. Begin by looking at the demographics of your work force. What is the percentage of males versus females? What is the average age? What are the most prevalent diseases and illnesses among your work force (your health plan can get you this information)? If the diseases are chronic, how can you partner with local health care providers to better manage these ailments? Establish an employee wellness committee to plan your initiatives with guidance from local health professionals and ensure that personal privacy is protected.

Q. What is some advice you can give on wellness programs, partnering with a hospital for health screenings or educating employees on better health care?

Initiating and expanding workplace wellness can be an ideal site to boost employee health and wellness. Employers can team with local health providers to start and execute your wellness program. Some hospitals can help tailor a wellness program that best fits the profile of a company’s work force, which not only promotes healthy habits but lessens the risk of injuries.