by Gregg O. Lehman
A culture of health is coming into its own across corporate America.
Driven by increasing health care costs and an obesity epidemic that fuels chronic illnesses, corporations are examining their core cost drivers and have arrived at a workable strategy: create a culture that promotes better health across the total employee population.
Health care premium costs increased 54.9% between 2002 and 2006, more than four times the overall rate of inflation. But the medical cost trend is moderating, in part because employers are shifting their focus to a total healthapproach to benefits. Three out of four companies now offer health management programs to their employees.
It’s expected that the health-cost growth trend will continue to decelerate in 2008. One factor is an employer trend to implement a more holistic approach to health benefits with a focus on prevention and lifestyle factors.
Here are three steps that organizations can take to determine their health management and fitness needs, and then develop programs that directly affect the bottom line via health care costs savings.
Step 1: The health assessment
The health assessment, administered either online or on paper, gives individual feedback on personal health risks based on the participant’s confidential responses to a questionnaire. It depends on biometric screening data that require medical tests—blood pressure, blood cholesterol and sugar levels, as well as height and weight.
The data and screenings help determine whether participants should take part in fitness programs to maintain their current health status, or in health management programs to reduce risks for chronic diseases such as diabetes or heart disease.
Step 2: Meaningful programs
Assessment results and health claims analyses can help determine which health management and fitness programs will best serve the organization’s total employee population.
Health management programs can range from on-site corporate fitness centers to spinning classes to tai chi to massage therapy. You can augment on-site weight-management, stress-management and smoking-cessation programs with phone- and web-based coaching. For these types of programs, personal coaching for individual employees (and often their spouses and family members) is particularly effective.
Sometimes, it’s also worthwhile to engage fitness trainers for individuals who could benefit from one-on-one coaching and inspiration.
Step 3: Outcomes and the value proposition
If you can tie together all of the components of your health management effort—disease management, fitness, health plan enrollment, employee assistance, even payroll—in a single information technology platform, you’ll see how they fit together. You will also be able to measure their success. Using data to measure outcomes will allow you to track reductions in risk, health care costs and claims.
Employers need to look at the bigger picture when considering health management and risk-reduction programs.
I want to try to retrain organizations with the concept of the value of investment, which takes into account health and productivity measures, rather than just return on investment. I firmly believe, from third-party studies, that the indirect cost of productivity loss is three to four times the direct cost of health care claims cost.
Gregg O. Lehman is CEO of HealthFitness, a provider of integrated health and fitness management services for employees and individuals, in Minneapolis. Contact him at (800) 639-7913.
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