Culture of Wellness

Companies are beginning to see the real value in offering programs that keep their employees healthy.

The bottom line on healthy employees is they cost less.

That's the gist of an idea starting to take hold in the business world, as a growing number of companies and businesses implement workforce wellness programs in hopes of creating healthier employees, and hopefully, stabilizing bottom lines.

Companies are beginning to see the real value in offering programs that keep their employees healthy.

Written by Patrick Flanagan
Photo by Robin May

Lafayette General's health club and wellness center,
where 20 personal trainers are available to its 1,800-plus employees,
is located in the former Townhouse building across from the main hospital.

The bottom line on healthy employees is they cost less.

That's the gist of an idea starting to take hold in the business world, as a growing number of companies and businesses implement workforce wellness programs in hopes of creating healthier employees, and hopefully, stabilizing bottom lines.

A once novel concept, the general perception of employee wellness is changing, and so is the idea's marketability, says Elisabeth Arnold, communications director for Our Lady of Lourdes in Lafayette.

The idea, says Arnold, is that by screening workers for possible "at-risk" health conditions and training them on how to live healthier, an employer will see increased productivity from workers and a reduction in health care costs.

The Healthy Lives program is Lourdes' take on workforce wellness. Launched in 2010 by the hospital's parent company, Franciscan Missionaries of Our Lady Health System, the program was designed specifically for the company's more than 10,000 employees.
Naysayers typically point to the costs associated with launching a program like Healthy Lives. But the proof will ultimately be in the numbers, Arnold says, noting that the first year of an ongoing study to quantify the program's cost benefits will conclude in November. She says the data being collected for that study will determine whether the money required to run the Healthy Lives program is defrayed by the amount generated in health care savings.

"As a business owner, you have to ask how this will save you money. And if you look at our program, we have so many employees, it looks like crazy money," says Arnold.

Preliminary figures are already showing a huge potential savings, she says. "If it's true, and the program works, we save millions."
Lafayette General Medical Center also offers a program for its employees, as well as an out-bound corporate program.

Kimmie Lyle, a registered dietician, has headed Lafayette General's Corporate Wellness Testing Program for a little more than a year, overseeing health screenings and employee reviews for companies statewide.

"We basically just go into a company and perform preventative health screenings," says Lyle. "We do blood work, take their blood pressure, their body fat percentage, and then identify the employees who are high-risk and give them ways to get on the right track before their condition gets more serious and more expensive to their company."

For employers, employees suffering from chronic diseases like obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure are costly. Lyle recommends employers proactively foster what she calls a "culture of wellness in the workplace."

"Exercise, eating a balanced diet, and effectively managing time and stress. That all plays into the big picture of wellness," Lyle notes. "The mentality has really shifted in recent years to prevention. Because a healthier employee will be a happier employee and a happy employee is a more productive employee."

In addition to its outbound corporate program, Lafayette General also promotes wellness among its 1,800-plus workers by offering a range of healthy living options, says Lyle.

The candy bars and donuts that once filled the hospital's vending machines have since been replaced with healthier options. Nutritional counseling and a full-service health club featuring 20 on-staff personal trainers are also available to Lafayette General's employees.
Incentives are another important factor in successful wellness programs, and one example is the 80 percent of Lourdes' 1,420 employees who have become Healthy Lives participants since 2010. In addition to making the daily Healthy Lives menu item the cheapest deal on the menu, Lourdes also uses money to entice employees to achieve certain goals established in the program.
Several of the Lafayette businesses to adopt Healthy Lives are beginning to offer incentives, too, says Arnold.

The popularity of the Healthy Lives program created by Lourdes' parent company has gone national since its launch.

Healthy Lives CEO Stephanie Mills says about 70,000 employees from 18 companies in eight states have since become participants. She says the program's growing popularity is largely a result of the 2007 economic recession, which left many in the corporate world scratching their heads for ways to survive rising costs and plummeting profit margins.

"Our preliminary data is showing significant reductions in the costs of health care and has improved the overall health status of the participants," notes Mills.

Mills says the number of Lourdes' employees with an at-risk health status has dropped from 11 to 5 percent since the program's launch two years ago. Lourdes' insurance premiums have flat-lined as a result, and employee health plans now cost 10 percent less, Mills adds.
That success, though preliminary, has even caught the attention of the White House, where Mills recently spoke on the positives of a healthy workplace before the Health Disparities Roundtable.

Healthy Incentives
Privatized Medicaid urges patients to practice healthy habits the old-fashioned way: with rewards.

By Heather Miller

Medicaid patients in Louisiana are undergoing many firsts this year with the implementation of Bayou Health, the state's new privatized program that contracts with five private insurance companies to administer health plans to Medicaid recipients. The switch from public to private Medicaid has caused its fair share of controversy and confusion for both patients and health care providers alike, but one first to come out of the new system is a wide range of incentives for Medicaid patients who meet preventive health goals through their respective plans.

Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals spokeswoman Meghan Speakes says the incentives offered to Medicaid recipients through the private companies are based on the success of similar incentive programs that the companies have implemented in other states.

"[Traditional] Medicaid doesn't have the flexibility to do things like member incentives or enhanced benefits, but the plans have the flexibility to do so, and we know they are proven to work," Speakes says. "This was part of our reason for adopting a coordinated care approach in Medicaid. The plans can do them at their own discretion."

The preventative measures and the incentives that encourage healthy lifestyles could be reaching hundreds of thousands more Louisianans, many of whom include the working uninsured, if Gov. Bobby Jindal would agree to expand Medicaid eligibility under the federal Affordable Care Act. Jindal is one of nine Republican governors who have opted not to expand coverage for the state's uninsured population,

According to a recent report from the nonprofit Louisiana Budget Project, more than 240,000 workers in the state would be added to the state's Medicaid rolls under Medicaid expansion, a list that  currently excludes all adults without children and any adult who makes more than $2,860 annually for a family of three.
The following are a few examples of the numerous incentives offered through each of the five insurance companies contracted to administer Medicaid in Louisiana:

LaCare: Free over-the-counter products mailed directly to home for the following:
High blood pressure: $25 in products per quarter to members in high blood pressure management program who reach targets
Children ages 3-18: $15 per child in products for parent/guardian of children who get yearly well-child check-ups
 Pregnant moms: Up to $75 in pre-natal/maternity items for reaching plan milestones

Community Health Solutions: A prepaid debit card that gets reloaded for each of the following preventative measures:
$10 for adult wellness screenings
$10 for diabetics who get blood screening (hemoglobin A1C) yearly
$10 for each postpartum visit within 50 days of delivery

Amerigroup Real Solutions:
Up to $65 in gift cards for pregnant women who complete prenatal and postpartum care.
Free Weight Watchers meetings for qualified members age 18 and older.
-Quit smoking program: Includes coaching and nicotine replacement products.

Louisiana Healthcare Connection:
-Up to $30 for regular, annual child check-ups
-$10 for pregnancy visits and for participants in case management
-$20 for managing your diabetes

United Healthcare:
-$20 gift card may be offered to members who visit a primary care physician visit within
90 days of enrollment.
-$20 gift card for well-child visits for children ages 3-6.
-Pregnant moms: Get important information about your baby's health with programs like Healthy First Steps.