Business ownersseeking to tame their healthcare costs—and, with premiums rising an average 12 percent per year, who isn’t?—are finally starting to explore the up-and-coming industry of employee wellness programs.

“A healthier employee makes a better employee,” says Terri Goodman, CEO of GenerationsHP, a Bradenton-based company that designs and implements such programs.

And that’s good for the bottom line, says GenerationsHP founder Bob Goodman, Terri’s father. “In order to compete in a world economy, our businesses have to be productive, and health and wellness are the key to productivity,” he says. “A diabetic whose sugar is not controlled, for example, can be working at 20 percent of capacity.”

Goodman spent 17 years as benefits manager for Manatee County government. There, he created a nationally recognized employee wellness program that combined dangling “carrots”—such as free biometric screenings (short health exams) and smoking cessation classes—with “sticks,” such as requiring employees to shoulder a higher percentage of their healthcare co-pays if they don’t hit certain health benchmarks.   

“You need a combination,” he maintains. “Carrots don’t drive the people who are on the fence the way that increased healthcare premiums do. We made the employees and their families get their benefits, not on cost, but on preventive qualifying events—if you want the best benefits, you’ve got to get a mammogram, for example.”

It worked. “One woman who’d worked at the county for 20 years told me that, until she got her sugar under control, she really didn’t know what she was doing day to day,” he says.

Perhaps the most dramatic indicator after the wellness plan was implemented: “At the county, the high-risk 1 percent was costing 23 percent of total claims,” Bob Goodman says. “Nationally, it’s 30 percent to 33 percent, so you’re talking big dollars in savings.”

Here's how these businesses incorporated wellness plans.

 

MManatee Glens COO Deborah KostrounANATEE GLENS

Before Manatee Glens rolled out its redesigned healthcare plan in January 2011, it averaged four to five high-risk medical situations costing in excess of $100,000 among its 450 employees annually. This year, there were none, says COO Deborah Kostroun. That’s a considerable savings for the self-insured, nonprofit behavioral healthcare center. Today Manatee Glens’ per-employee cost for the plan is $3,023; in the past it was $3,615.

Manatee Glens worked with GenerationsHP to design a “carrot and stick” plan. “Premiums remain the same, but people who participate in the best plan and wellness activities benefit from lower deductibles and more extensive coverage,” says Kostroun.

To participate in the company’s top-tiered plan with the lowest co-pays, each employee must undergo annual biometric testing for a gamut of preventive issues, among them blood pressure, weight and body mass index, diabetes and thyroid. If an employee is found to have diabetes, for example, she must then participate in diabetes education classes in order to continue to qualify for those low co-pays. And every smoker who wants the top-tiered health insurance plan must take a tobacco cessation program.

“We even had our own Biggest Loser contest,” says Kostroun. “It’s exciting because it’s getting people to be focused on their health preventively."

Despite some initial pushback (“We got some comments about ‘Big Brother,’ and there were some people who did not want to know their health issues,” says Kostroun), “we are excited that 95 percent of our employees chose the Gold (top-tiered) plan, and our per-member per-month spending on health insurance went down significantly; we saved 16 percent the first year.”

Manatee Glens also incorporated penalties that first year. “If you did not do biometric testing, tobacco education if you were a smoker, screening tests like colonoscopy and mammography at certain age levels, we had a penalty of $1,000 per member,” says Kostroun. “We ended up having only three people we had to charge a penalty to.”

 

Gateway Bank employees are encouraged to exercise together.GATEWAY BANK

Gateway Bank of Southwest Florida’s workplace wellness initiatives in 2010—everything from yoga classes to Saturday-morning walks over the Ringling Bridge—earned it recognition by the American Heart Association as a “Fit-Friendly Company.”

Bank president Shaun Merriman says the emphasis on wellness has created a spirit of camaraderie among the bank’s 40 employees, who say their energy is up and their cholesterol levels are improved.

And employee wellness gives Gateway Bank a crucial professional edge, Merriman says: “It’s already extremely competitive in the business world. We don’t want absenteeism and low stamina to be impediments.”

Merriman leads by example. A former professional water skier who is now a competitive Alpine snow skier and long-distance bicyclist, Merriman says, “I could not do what I do for the bank or the community if I didn’t exercise. It keeps me energized and my stamina up.” On April 1, for example, he led a team of 20 Gateway Bank employees, directors and clients on the 65-mile Tour de Cure for the American Diabetes Association.

In a companywide challenge while seeking Fit-Friendly Company status from the American Heart Association, Gateway Bank’s employees logged nearly 11,000 miles of walking in four months. Top teams received gym memberships, gift cards to sporting stores and massage gift certificates.

Every two weeks, employee wellness coordinator Jamie Jones sends an e-blast to all 40 bank employees on fitness and health topics. She organizes monthly lunch-and-learns, and the third Tuesday of each month is “wear your sneakers to work day,” with Jones gathering interested employees at noon for a walk. Some 12 to 15 bank employees regularly participate. The cost to implement these programs was “virtually nothing,” Merriman says.

Jones is a full-time employee in the credit administration department, and devotes “all in all probably eight to 10 hours per month of her time,” he says.

Gateway Bank, founded in 2008, does not tie wellness program participation to its healthcare plan. “We’re not there yet, but it’s something we will consider in the future,” says Merriman.

 

Longboat Key Club & Resort’s human resources director Theresa Zupone, wellness director Kristi Bonsack, and communications director Sandra Rios.LONGBOAT KEY CLUB & RESORT

When the Longboat Key Club & Resort instituted a Passport to Wellness program for its 500-plus employees in 2011, the cost of healthcare premiums decreased 5 percent and sick days dropped a whopping 12 percent.

“We wanted to help our associates lead a healthier lifestyle,” says human resources director Theresa Zupon. “We also knew this would help us address our rising healthcare premiums.”

Free annual biometric screenings, lunch-and-learn programs on diet and nutrition, access to the resort fitness center during nonpeak times, complimentary stretching, aerobics, spin and yoga classes, even retirement planning are all part of Passport to Wellness.

Participating employees earn “wellness dollars” they can redeem for rewards—the biggest and most popular are days off with pay and credits on health insurance premiums; smaller rewards include complimentary spa services and training time with a fitness instructor.

In 2011, about 40 percent of employees participated in the inaugural free biometric screening. Zupon anticipates greater participation this year, partly because several employees discovered issues such as high cholesterol and diabetes.

“Employees tell us they love the variety of programs,” says Zupon. “They’re taught right here at the resort during lunch hour so it’s easy to participate, and they’re getting information they haven’t had the time to go out and get on their own.”

Passport to Wellness also invites employees to volunteer together for adopt-a-shore and adopt-a-highway cleanups. Flu shots are free for employees who have healthcare coverage with the resort. Importantly, in anticipation of a no-tobacco policy for its employees instituted on Jan. 1, the resort offered several tobacco cessation programs in 2011.

The club debuted a similar wellness initiative for resort members and guests this year that includes beachside stretching classes, informational “dine arounds” at the resort’s various restaurants, and information sessions with area physicians. The resort calls it “an interactive and inspirational approach to well-being.”

 

 

The Costs of Doing Nothing

From Terri Goodman

 Caregiver strain costs employers approximately $1.1 billion per year. (Duxbury & Higgins, 2003)

Active employees take 27 percent fewer sick days and report 14 percent to 25 percent fewer disability days. (Plotnikoff et. al, 2003)

   Forty minutes per day is lost to the smoking ritual per smoker. Each smoker costs an employer an average of $3,396 per year in decreased productivity, increased absenteeism, increased life insurance premiums and smoking area costs. (Conference Board of Canada, 2006)

   An employee with three or more risk factors (i.e. sedentary lifestyle, smoker, overweight and drink too much) is absent 50 percent more often than staff with no such risk factors. (Shain & Suurvail, 2001)

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