Friday, May 1, 2009
Companies are constantly looking for ways to reduce healthcare expenses. A number of firms are choosing employee wellness programs as a means to accomplish that goal. San Diego's Scripps Health started its program in 2006. Scripps says so far, the initiative has helped the company avoid millions of dollars in employee medical costs.
Companies are constantly looking for ways to reduce healthcare expenses. A number of firms are choosing employee wellness programs as a means to accomplish that goal. San Diego's Scripps Health started its program in 2006. Scripps says so far, the initiative has helped the company avoid millions of dollars in employee medical costs.KPBS Health Reporter Kenny Goldberg has the story.
The Scripps' Wellness Program is not for couch potatoes.
"Good, bodies up tall here, remember to keep those shoulders back. Exhale, lift, inhale, control on the way down. Good….. "
At Scripps corporate headquarters, a group of employees goes through a rigorous workout. It's one of the ways people in the wellness program try to stay fit.
They also watch what they eat. They periodically get their cholesterol and blood sugar checked.
Lindsay Rhine works in corporate development.
"I really like how easy it is, and how convenient it is, and it really is a motivation to stay healthy," says Rhine.
The program is also a way to earn some cash. Employees who take part in Scripps' wellness program earn money for taking classes, running in marathons, and getting check ups.
Rhine says it's really paid off for her.
"Not only do I get to work out during the day for free, at my work, which is so convenient, but then they're paying for my health insurance, which is more than I could ever ask for," Rhine explains.
The program helped Rhine and more than 28-hundred Scripps workers earn free health insurance last year.
Hamilton Mears heads up Scripps' wellness program. He's one of three employees that work full-time on the effort.
Mears says when workers first enroll, they complete a comprehensive health status survey.
"We measure 12 risk factors," says Mears, "Seven of them are lifestyle risk factors, such as your physical activity level, your dietary habits, your ability to cope with stress. And then we also measure medical risk factors. Those would be your weight, your cholesterol levels, your glucose level, your blood pressure."
Based on that information, the program offers employees ways to deal with their health risks.
There are healthy heart activities and stress reduction classes. People can learn how to prevent diabetes and lower their cholesterol. Employees earn incentives for changing bad behaviors like overeating and smoking.
Liz Kern is a computer programmer.
"I have a history of heart disease in my family, but I never paid attention to it," says Kern. "And then I came back to work at Scripps. As part of the wellness program, we do an assessment, and I went and got my blood tested. Surprise, surprise, my cholesterol was really high, I was high risk for heart disease."
Kern learned about some nutritional supplements. After taking them for a few months, she dropped her cholesterol by 56 points.
Now, Kern is involved in a weight loss challenge with some of her co-workers. Her ultimate goal is to lose enough weight to run in a 5K race next fall.
"For me," Kern says, "that'll be kinda taking me full circle as far as my wellness, because I hadn't exercised in a long time, you know, I was significantly overweight. I had bronchitis, laryngitis. For me, that helps take it full circle, and then it's just, you know, the sky's the limit from there."
Vic Buzachero is Scripps' vice president of human resources.
"We've seen the number of risk factors decrease, which moves people from high risk to low risk," Buzachero points out. "And that has resulted in about two-point-five million or two-point-six million dollars of savings in our employee medical and pharmacy costs, in the first couple of years."
Safeway is another California employer that's investing in wellness.
Safeway offers workers and their spouses up to 800 dollars a year for reducing risk factors like smoking and obesity. The company says its wellness program has cut per-capita healthcare spending by 13 percent.
Scripps' officials say employees who are heavily involved in the wellness program are improving their health. And compared to other employees, they have 30 percent lower medical costs.
"Exhale, lift. Pull those belly buttons in so those abs are tight, you're supporting that lumbar spine, and down. Good guys…….."
Kenny Goldberg, KPBS News.