A relocation provider avoids healthcare hikes by getting employees to drop weight, stop smoking, and get tested.
Healthcare costs seem to be on a never-ending path upward. Every year, businesses and their employees get hit with higher premiums and other healthcare-related expenses. Costs are expected to increase in 2012 by 8.5 percent, though changes in plan designs may help keep cost increases to only seven percent, according to PwC research. According to research from Hewitt Associates, in the first decade of the 21st century healthcare costs including employer costs, employee payroll contributions, and out-of-pocket expenses rose from $4,793 to $11,058 per employee.
This unfortunate reality has forced companies throughout the country to make difficult choices: absorb the costs and make cuts elsewhere; pass some of the costs on to employees; or eliminate insurance coverage altogether. Graebel opted to forgo these options and source new insurance carriers and implement an employee wellness program to much success. From 2011 to 2012, healthcare costs were contained with no increase in benefits paid by employees, and employees were more engaged with the idea of improving their health.
Company Culture Through Wellness
As Graebel and many other companies have discovered, a wellness program can help create a positive and healthy culture at work. In the last two years, spending on health management programs has increased by 50 percent reports Towers Watson. Employers see these programs as a means of controlling healthcare costs and creating healthier business climates.
Employees who come to work sick cost companies $12.1 billion a year in lost productivity, according to a Business Insider article. However, when they are healthy, employees are less likely to be absent and are more productive. Plus, healthy employees have more positive interactions with clients, suppliers, and fellow employees. These benefits can give companies a competitive edge. Tower Watson finds two-thirds of companies with effective health and productivity programs experience better performance than their competitors, and industry-adjusted revenues per employee are 40 percent higher in healthy companies.
Be Good to Yourself
In the fall of 2010, Graebel introduced the program, Be Good to Yourself to all employees. The program helped create a culture that encourages exercise, smoking cessation, and healthy eating habits and behaviors. Some of the diverse activities and programs include the following:
• Healthy snacks in the vending machines and lunch options in the World Headquarters’ café;
• 50 percent discount on Weight Watchers fees for employees and spouses;
• Free smoking cessation program through the American Lung Association;
• Rejuvenate Your Plate, a nutritionbased program; and
• Competitive weight loss programs incIuding a Biggest Loser contest for individual employees and a Hold the Holidays team event.
Graebel saw great participation from its employees—and even better results. Healthcare claims were 80 percent less than the forecast for 2011. Overall, health-screening scores indicated double-digit improvements year-over-year.
"Now that our Be Good to Yourself program has been in place for a year, we see the benefits of an effective wellness program," explained Mary Stoik Dymond, senior vice president of human resources for Graebel Companies, Inc. "We are able to stand out from the national trend, and keep employee health insurance premiums static for 2012. Our employees will not experience increased insurance premium costs in their paychecks this year. “
Getting Employees on Board
Companies are not simply offering wellness programs; they are increasingly incentivizing—and even penalizing—employees to encourage participation. Between 2009 and 2011, the use of financial rewards to incentivize employees for taking part in health management programs increased by 50 percent, according to MSN. This number is expected to go up this year, with approximately 80 percent of employers offering financial incentives. Examples of incentives include:
• Subsidized gym and fitness center memberships
• Tiered insurance plans that allow the healthiest employees to pay the lowest premiums
• Financial rewards for weight loss, smoking cessation, or annual checkups
• More company-paid life insurance
• Discounts on weight loss and smoking cessation programs
Some companies have found that positive reinforcement of healthy habits is not enough to warrant behavior change and now are also imposing penalties to encourage action. The use of penalties as a part of health management programs has increased 8 percent to 19 percent between 2009 and 2011, and further increases are expected in 2012. Penalties can range from increased premiums, higher deductibles, or surcharges for unhealthy behavior and nonparticipation.
Graebel’s program was successful because the areas on which it focused were not arbitrary. Using results from an online health risk assessment and biometric screening taken in the fall of 2010, Graebel leadership identified 10 target health risks and focused the program and education on them.
Senior management served as role models for healthy lifestyles, engaging employees with a supportive environment, compelling incentives, and tools. Communication from the Graebel human resources department was regular and informative.
"Graebel rewarded its employees for participating," explains Laura Earley, director of benefits for Graebel Companies, Inc. "Wellness points were earned through participation throughout the year. Given a predetermined annual goal amount, these points were then redeemed to reduce the employee’s monthly benefit premium, which did not increase for 2012."
The company’s commitment did not end with 2011. Graebel continues to offer the previous program elements, as well as new activities such as onsite Zumba classes by a certified instructor and a stress management seminar from the American Heart Association.
Graebel Companies is reaping the rewards of its company-wide wellness program:
- 7 percent decrease in the number of smokers
- 500 participants in the "Rejuvenate Your Plate" program
- 11 percent decrease in employees who need to improve their fitness level
- 11 percent decrease in people at a high risk for cancer
- 5 percent decrease in people with moderate to high coronary risk
- 4 percent decrease in people with high cholesterol
- 7 percent increase in people with health scores greater than 85 (out of a possible best overaII score of 1 00)
- More than a half a ton lost through Weight Watchers
- 450 participants contributed to 1,500 lost pounds in the Biggest Loser contest (weekly winners earned $100 and the overall "biggest loser" received a trip for two to the Dominican Republic)
- 87 teams participated in the Hold the Holidays contest and combined weight loss was 1,075 pounds (each member of the winning teams earned $50 gift cards from Target)