Everyone is concerned about health these days—from our own personal health to the health of the economy. On at least one level, the two are intertwined. Americans pay more for health care than many other nations, which raises the question: Could economic recovery start at the doctor’s office?
“No,” says Mike Campbell of Louisville-based Neace Lukens, an insurance company that plans employer insurance benefits. “Medical practitioners, almost without exception, have no training in the area of keeping people from becoming sick. They have training in how to fix things that are broken.”
Like it or not, the responsibility for this task will likely fall upon businesses large and small, as employers begin to focus even more on wellness.
“The employer has got to step up to the plate and change the belief patterns of the individuals in their population,” Campbell says. “Engage them so they will embrace a healthy lifestyle. That is not going to be driven by the medical community. It never has been, except in very rare cases.”
Campbell says the number one reason employers need to implement wellness programs in the workplace is because they are the ones footing the bill for health insurance. “Employers need to realize that a big part of the answer is helping to engage their employees in the business plan and educating them on why wellness is so important. Wellness is really going to help employers address their costs.”
Will Glaros, owner of Dyer-based Employer Benefits Systems, says even the lackluster economy hasn’t diminished employer interest in wellness plans. “What businesses are looking for primarily and what they can afford is being able to at least have the starting points of wellness, which are identification of the risks,” he says. “The key is the identification process.”
Glaros encourages the use of and assists companies with setting up onsite screenings and health risk appraisals. This ensures participation of many employees who wouldn’t ordinarily take the time. Glaros says there is often a big discrepancy between the employee-completed health appraisals and the screening results. “Once the biometric testing comes back, the truth comes out,” he says. “Then we are able to help the employer identify the most critical health areas to work on with his employees to at least better educate them on those conditions.”
He also encourages employers to get their employees actively involved in the process by incentivizing them—perhaps by reducing their monthly insurance premium when they participate in screenings.
Wellness incorporates other things besides health screenings and education, such as exercise, healthy diet and smoking cessation.
“It’s really a unique field to be in right now,” Glaros says. “It’s a warm feeling knowing we’ve helped people. We don’t know who they are. But we know there are people out there who have been identified. We’ve got a couple of cases where the company’s claims have steadily been less as a percentage of their premium. We attribute that to the fact that people are more aware of their conditions.”
Controlling costs isn’t the only reason for adopting wellness programs, though. In fact, Campbell says when you add up the other reasons, the total is greater than the cost of health care. Some other factors include attraction and retention of employees, reduced absenteeism, downtime, improved productivity and a decrease in presenteeism (being present at work but not really wanting to be there).
A culture of wellness
“Boss has always fostered a culture of physical activity and exercise,” says Craig Attar, accounting manager. “When our current facility was constructed in 2001, the owners chose to install a racquetball court, workout facility, locker room and sauna. It is a huge advantage to be able to exercise where you work. The owners recognize the importance and endless benefits of physical activity.”
Centier Bank offers onsite classes and has a fitness center in its headquarters. Branch employees enjoy discounts at various health clubs. The company’s Let’s Get Wellthy reimbursement program gives employees points for exercise, eating healthy meals, getting checkups, reading health-related information and other things—and it’s all on an honor system. Employee dependents are encouraged to attend the health screenings and lunch-and-learn sessions.
“We’ve been doing these kinds of things for 10 years,” says Chrisanne Christ, vice president and director of human resources. “And we add to it every year. What sets you apart as an employer of choice is when you choose to offer the things that aren’t required. People start to see you in a different light, and you attract a different type of person.”
Healthy employees are also likely to be more productive employees.
“Although we don’t track work performance statistics for employees who exercise vs. those who don’t, we strongly believe an employee who exercises regularly is more productive,” Attar says. “Productivity is always important, but it has definitely come to the forefront over the past year as companies try to do more with less. In addition, healthy employees positively affect modifiers used in health insurance premium calculations.”
Christ says Centier hasn’t had to modify its plan design like many companies. The bank looks to health partners to provide free presentations to employees on such topics as breast cancer awareness and suicide prevention, however. “We’ve been fortunate,” she says. “Our 2010 benefits cost less than they did two years ago. Is that because of wellness? Well, we can’t really say that for a fact. But education is so important. Medical rates are directly related to the claims on the plan, and our folks are using the plan very appropriately.”