3 Questions Featured

8:00pm EDT May 26, 2009

Rose K. Gantner is senior director of health promotion, sales and product development for the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Health Plan in western Pennsylvania. Prior to her current role, Gantner was the vice president of Corphealth, where she worked on managed care, employee assistance programs and wellness programs for the state of Arkansas. She has more than 35 years of experience and expertise in wellness and has published several articles and educational training materials.

Q. How do healthy employees contribute to a company’s bottom line?

The goal is to keep healthy people healthy. Healthy employees are more productive; they have optimal health, energy and vitality as well as better morale. They also have lower medical costs. According to a study by the University of Michigan, ideally 70 to 75 percent of your work force should fall into the healthy category. Generally, low-risk employees cost a company $1,751 per year, per employee in terms of health costs. Moderate-risk employees cost about $2,268 per year and high-risk employees cost $5,052 per year. Employees with chronic conditions can cost $7,000 to $14,000 a year.

Q. Is employer intervention the most effective method to help healthier employees reduce costs?

Employers can offer incentives in various forms — promotional items, gift cards, certificates, benefit plan design reductions, co-pay waivers, etc. These incentives are needed to encourage and support healthier behavior change. The best incentives are cash in some form. It is recommended that an employer plan to spend $200 to $400 per eligible employee. This will allow for active engagement via marketing materials and promotion of programs and services.

Q. How can an employer implement a cost-free program?

This is difficult, but it can be done. There are free programs offered by nonprofit organizations, such as the American Heart Association’s 10,000 steps program and the American Cancer Society’s smoking cessation program. The Centers for Disease Control and the Wellness Council of America have excellent educational materials that are available online. Web sites such as WebMD, the Mayo Clinic, Kaiser Permanente and Harvard Health provide public sites with information about wellness initiatives. Every state offers free tobacco cessation programs. Employers can also do some inexpensive things to promote wellness, such as paint the stairwells to promote taking the stairs instead of the elevator. They can have weekly walks for interested employees.