Trends in Health Care
Companies find health equals wealth
|OLOL's Healthy Lives is an example of how incentives encourage employees to make better choices.|
For many companies, 'corporate wellness' used to be just a buzz-term.
Executives were happy enough to announce wellness initiatives, but loathe to write the checks or commit the energy necessary to see them through. However, as health care costs have risen and profit margins have slimmed, more and more companies are seeing wellness programs as serious investments and they're getting real returns.
“Before, if people even thought a corporate wellness program was good, that might have been the extent of [their effort],” says Providence Corporate Cup Wellness Liaison Claire Major. “But now, the data has extremely changed.”
OLOL offers rewards for staying healthy as one of several companies seeking to save money and help employees. Click here to see a snapshot of the voluntary program.
With an economy still recovering more companies are putting in the substantial amount of money and time needed to provide quality wellness programs, according to Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center CEO Scott Wester. And he would know. His parent company, Franciscan Missionaries of Our Lady Health System, has developed a wellness program called Healthy Lives that is saving money and has already achieved national recognition. The program is so successful OLOL is now marketing it to other corporations and health systems. Other health providers and insurers in the region have had serious wellness programs for years, but, like many companies across the country, OLOL has only seriously invested in wellness since the program's launch in 2010, despite their success. It makes them an ideal company to study to understand the recent surge in wellness and answer the many questions that come with it.
When the recession hit in 2007, health care costs didn't stop rising. The amount businesses pay to provide their employees with health insurance and the amount the employees pay are rising significantly faster than the rate of inflation.
“Health care costs have risen 8% to 14% annually,” Major says. Companies—and especially corporations—began to examine to where they could cut costs. Health care was an obvious place to start.
“Probably five years ago our health system came to the realization that we had to think of new models of care to help bend the cost curve,” Wester says.
But where to start?
OLOL's system sent employees across the country to figure out the best way to cut costs. They came across a variety of solutions, but found a prominent printing company in Milwaukee whose frustrated owner had decided to build his own health care company to provide for his employees rather than having to pay rising costs elsewhere. “And I thought, Shame on us as a health care provider that we can't do a better job providing for our employees,” Wester says.
So OLOL, with 10,500 employees, began a renewed commitment to employee care.
It began as patient-centered clinics for employees. But then came the implementation of high-level data analytic technology, spearheaded by Dr. Stephanie Mills, who is now the CEO of Healthy Lives. “We realized we needed a better way to keep track of our employees' health,” Mills says.
After health risk assessments and screenings, OLOL was able to identify employees with moderate to high-risk of serious health problems, like smokers and sufferers of obesity or diabetes. “Some of our employees are very expensive, and a lot of those were [a result of] lifestyle choices,” Wester says.
While many companies and providers are taking a fresh look at corporate wellness, others have been practicing corporate wellness for years. Here's a look at a few companies in the Baton Rouge area that have made corporate wellness a priority and are reaping the benefits of healthier, more productive employees and lower health care costs.
OLOL officials realized in addition to the care they were already providing their employees, they needed to expand the scope of services offered. To limit their health care costs, they would need healthier employees, and to do that they would need to help employees make lifestyle changes. “That's really what corporate wellness is about: influencing the behavioral side of patient care,” Wester says.
If you build it, will they come?
Though they had targeted the employees who most needed care, and now had the salient information to help those who might not need the same level of care, Mills and her team still needed to get employees to participate.
They offered financial rewards for employees who could stay on track.
High-level achievers may get more than $300 at the end of the year, for example, or be asked to pay 50% of their normal premium when visiting the doctor. The Healthy Lives option at the hospital cafeteria is always the least expensive. But money alone isn't enough to motivate someone to make changes; solutions need to be comprehensive and personal.
In the offices, OLOL employees might have information sessions or fairs designed to demonstrate the effects of unhealthy behavior. OLOL added walking paths and healthy vending options on campus. Wester says he does not mind encouraging a little friendly competition between co-workers. “I could go over to the business office right now, and they can tell me how many hundreds of pounds they've lost,” he says.
Outside the office, Healthy Lives provides health coaches. Employees using the system must share their health successes—and failures—with the coaches in order to receive a reward. “The concept for the coach is to fill the gap between the provider and the team member,” Mills says. They're also striving to get the employees' families involved, realizing health begins at the kitchen table. Spouses who take part can earn their own rewards, and couples with children can get discounted premiums for their kids.
And it's working. Healthy Lives has achieved a participation rate of 81% among the employees of OLOL. Previous wellness programs drew closer to 35% of employees, Mills says.
The difference, both Wester and Mills say, is the commitment top management at OLOL made to wellness before the program began. “It has to be embraced by the senior team,” Wester says. That commitment has led them to tweak the program over time as the data collected dictated what the employees needed.
The bottom line
“A lot of people ask me, 'Why should the Lake do this?' because it seems counterintuitive,” Wester says. “We're working so hard to prevent the problems we get paid to treat.”
Internally, OLOL has not had to raise its employees' health insurance rates. And it's not just the workers who are benefiting. “As an employer, we're saving a lot of money,” Wester says.
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That success led OLOL to believe it could market Healthy Lives. Realizing other companies—including other health systems—might not have the time, money or initiative to develop their own wellness programs. OLOL will provide its program at a fee.
Since its launch in January 2012, the program has 18 external clients in eight states serving 70,000 people, according to Mills. OLOL views Healthy Lives as a care product it can sell for years.
“We firmly believe this is going to be the wave of the future,” Wester says.
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