Employee wellness programs: Higher productivity and lower costs

“Six-to-eight percent of the city’s employees drive almost two-thirds of the health care costs around five chronic illnesses that are all manageable. … health care costs are being driven [up] by ten percent a year and we’re not seeing revenue growing that way.”–Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel

Chicago, Illinois (population 2.7 million): City employees would see their monthly health insurance premiums rise by $50 unless they participate in a “wellness program” to manage chronic health problems such as obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure, under a private sector-style plan to be unveiled Friday. After a standoff on work-rule changes, Mayor Rahm Emanuel has forged an agreement with city unions on a plan to use what he has called the “carrot-and-stick approach” to drive down the city’s $500 million-a-year health care costs by as much as $240 million over four years.

The program would begin by offering city employees and their dependents enhanced screening and wellness training to establish benchmarks and long-term goals, including weight loss, medication, exercise and kicking the smoking habit. Coaches would ride herd over workers on a bi-monthly basis to make certain they’re following their prescribed nutritional, medical and physical fitness regimens. Those who refuse to participate would see their monthly premiums rise by $50. Those who meet their goals could see similar reductions.

Chicago taxpayers spend $500 million-a-year to provide health care for city employees, nearly ten percent of the city’s annual budget. Emanuel campaigned on a promise to reduce those annual costs by as much as $60 million in each of the next four years by implementing an incentive-laden plan mirrored after the one pioneered by Safeway and Johnson & Johnson. “We cannot afford the standard we’re on. And we can’t afford to do pilots anymore. … Six-to-eight percent of the city’s employees drive almost two-thirds of the health care costs around five chronic illnesses that are all manageable. … We are going to be the first city to … implement a citywide wellness plan for our employees because health care costs are being driven [up] by ten percent a year and we’re not seeing revenue growing that way.”

Johnson & Johnson managed to reduce employee smoking by two-thirds, cut high-blood pressure in half and get $3 of savings for every $1 invested in incentives. Read more at the Chicago Sun-Times.

Newnan, Georgia (population 33,039): The City of Newnan has been selected by the Georgia Municipal Association to receive one of 30 Employee Health Promotion & Wellness Incentive Grants awarded statewide to promote worksite programs designed to enhance the health and wellness of city employees and family members. Awards are made to members of the Georgia Municipal Employees Benefit System — GMEBS — Life and Health Insurance Fund, underwritten by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Georgia, based on a city’s commitment to employee health and demonstrated collaboration with other community groups and organizations engaged in health promotion.

Wellness programs have demonstrated a track record of improving employee health and quality of life while reducing medical claims and improving workplace morale. GMA offers wellness services to all member communities through LGRMS, a not-for-profit agency operated jointly with the Association County Commissioners of Georgia. Employees will be offered a confidential health assessment program using a Health Risk Appraisal, with blood pressure screening and health improvement feedback, as well as other health education and awareness programs. Read more on the Newnan Times-Herald.

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