To fight the rising cost of healthcare, some companies are cutting back on employee health coverage or raising premiums and deductibles on their workers. While this approach may save money for the employer in the short term, it doesn’t help employees become healthier and more productive, or reduce absenteeism.
A fully integrated workplace wellness program, on the other hand, can actually move the needle on employee health and morale, and eventually the employer’s healthcare expenses. Such programs embrace a wide array of tools to change employee behaviors and attitudes, ranging from nutrition, exercise, and weight control, to free wellness visits, one-on-one chronic disease coaching, and stop-smoking incentives.
Many employers have viewed wellness programs as a nice extra when times are flush. We believe that the obesity epidemic and the rising toll of diabetes now make them a strategic imperative.
At Health Care Services Corporation (HCSC)—owner and operator of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois, Texas, Oklahoma and New Mexico—we’ve adopted what we think are best-in-class wellness programs for our own employees and our customers. And we employed resources and financial incentives to make sure employees know we’re serious. In addition to tying wellness to our annual bonuses, employees can earn real money (up to $200 a year) for taking an annual wellness exam and logging their physical activity on a Web site, for example.
Our fitness centers have state of the art equipment and classes and are offered at a discount. In addition, we offer discount programs for flexible gym memberships for employees and members across the country. And our cafeteria services ‘FIT’ meals are guaranteed to be moderate in fat calories, cholesterol and fat.
Employees at HCSC have collectively lost 53,139 lbs of weight in 2011 – majorly surpassing the 20 ton weight loss goal HCSC originally instituted. Shrona Carter, for example, a customer advocate specialist with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Texas, lost 67 pounds in 16 months. And Kim Miller, an accounting clerk with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Oklahoma, dropped 6% body fat, dropped her cholesterol and blood sugar by 12 points, and was able stop taking certain medications as she took better control of her health.
Additionally, we altered our premium structure to penalize people who smoked. At the same time, we instituted a smoking cessation program, which achieved a 40% quit rate. The number of employees who smoke dropped 8%, bringing an estimated $918,836 in health coverage claim cost savings.
We set the 20-ton weight-loss goal for 2011, with the tools in place to assist our employees in achieving results. We are proud that our more than 16,000 employees lost those 20 tons four months ahead of schedule – and ended up surpassing 30,000 tons.
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