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Economic Advantage of a Healthy Workforce

Companies help employees lead fit lifestyles

By Noah Purcell

Page 42

Even the best trained, most talented workers can only do so much for their employers from the constraints of a hospital bed. In an effort to address rising health care costs, Michigan companies are creating a competitive edge as they help their employees enjoy better lifestyles.

“We care about our employees from the perspective that we want them to be healthy and well so that they can be happy and productive,” said Susan Morgan Bailey, manager of wellness and health promotion at DTE Energy.

The national averages reflect a yearly health care cost growth of seven to eight percent, which makes the conversation of pairing health and wealth even more important. One undertaking of the St. John Providence Health System, SmartHealth, has effectively addressed spiraling costs.

“Our health care expenditure costs, instead of the national average of an eight percent increase a year, we’ve been less than two percent, that speaks for itself,” said Andrew Vosburgh, M.D., corporate medical director of St. John Providence Health System. “People are healthier; they’re getting the help that they need and we’re leading by example. We’re helping the sickest and that’s what a health care organization is supposed to be about.”

Made into a statewide program in 2009 and currently being turned into a national initiative within the Ascension Health Ministries, SmartHealth has focused on bringing down costs for those who need the most health care. Before the launch of the program, St. John Providence was spending 50 percent of its total dollars on 3.4 percent of its employees.

For Dr. Vosburgh, who is responsible for health and wellness, and SmartHealth, helping this group of individuals began with identifying obstacles.

“For me, it is letting me see what your barrier to care is and then let me see if I can knock down that barrier for you to get you to be healthier. In my program, we’ll cover what you need to get you to the optimum health and when we did that, with the people who participated — and it was completely voluntary — we saw a 25 percent reduction in how much they spent,” Dr. Vosburgh said. “And when you’re talking about 50 percent of your money, 25 percent can be a huge amount of money.”

Whether the individual’s barrier is lacking a ride to the doctor or their co-pay is too high, the SmartHealth program addresses needs first instead of being yoked to what is covered as part of the insurance provision.

“[SmartHealth] is separate from the insurance plan. There is a separate budget to do this, and we’ve probably recognized a $9- $10 million dollar savings on just doing it,” Dr. Vosburgh said.

For employers throughout the state, efforts to streamline costs through improved health stretches beyond the workplace. Both DTE Energy and Chrysler point to their efforts in involving not just their employees, but also their employees’ families.

“One of the things we thought about very earnestly back in 2010 was what could we do to go to the next level of program and what could we do to engage families because we know sometimes that the health care decision maker is not an employee, it might be a spouse,” said Chrysler’s Director of Integrated Health Care and Disability, Kathleen Neal.

For example, at Chrysler, weight management through heightened activity is a point of emphasis for both employees and their families.

“Our salary population for 2013 has the opportunity to engage in some fitness challenges and that involves exercise, walking and nutrition. We’ve been able to see visible wellness at Chrysler,” Neal said. “With the onset of this program in January, our salaried employees are wearing pedometers. They are up, they are walking, they are challenging their colleagues and their family members to walk with them.”

In addition to stoking behavior change through competition, Chrysler has also struck at barriers to care. An on-site fitness center, clinic and pharmacy ease access to everyday health needs while a registered nurse on staff and an annual ‘Day of Wellness’ event, at which employees can have bio-metric screenings administered, help shape employees’ overarching health plans.

DTE Energy’s recent initiatives were helped by fortuitous pairing. In late 2011, the company began overhauling office space to promote a more open and collaborative work environment which lent itself to integrating health and wellness into a worker’s daily process.

“Because we were in the process of overhauling the office environment and even some of our field locations, I was able to say ‘If we’re going to be redoing a floor, then on that floor I’d like it to be a pre-specification that we put a walk station in,” Bailey said.

The walk stations, a treadmill with a workspace sitting over it with a phone and a computer, coupled with standing desks are all part of efforts to promote health and wellness by crafting an environment that promotes movement throughout the day. This focus is also seen at Chrysler as the company has mapped out indoor walking trails through the corporate headquarters.

“We are very focused on encouraging the behaviors that we know contribute to long-term health. We want them to be connecting with a physician and building a relationship with a physician that will help them be healthy for a long time,” Bailey said.

Along with on-site health coaches and office enhancements, DTE is furthering these connections and behaviors through the structure of their benefit packages as well.

“We do have an expectation that you’ll start out at the beginning of the year at the enhanced level of benefits, and the expectation is that to maintain that enhanced level of benefits you will see your physician for a health screening, you will complete a health-risk assessment online,” Bailey said.

“If your numbers are out of range, you’ll take an extra step toward action, which is either connecting with a health coach or completing physical activity training. If they miss any of those markers — they ultimately have six months to do all of that — then they move down to the standard level of benefits which would mean that they pay more for health care,” Bailey said.

Noah Purcell is a metro Detroit freelance writer.