By COURTNEY CULEY
Capital News Service
LANSING – Wellness incentives may be making Michigan healthier and one company has numbers to prove it.
Healthy Blue Living, provided by the Blue Care Network, was the first health care plan in Michigan and one of the first in the nation to make healthy options pay off financially.
Five years after the 2006 launch, members from the Network are pleased with its success.
More than 70 percent of the people enrolled in Healthy Blue Living in 2006 with high blood pressure have reduced their number to a healthy range, said Marc Keshishian, senior vice president and chief medical officer, Blue Care Network. More than 60 percent with high blood sugar are now living at an acceptable level.
“It’s been very successful,” said Keshishian.
Since the launch, more than 111,000 members have enrolled in the program, according to the Network.
Healthy Blue Living offers its members lower out of pocket costs if they are living healthy, according to the Blue Care Network.
Members must meet the healthy living goals to qualify for lower co-pays and deductibles, said Carla Chambers, vice president health and medical affairs, Blue Care Network. Those goals include having a body mass index under 30 (amount of body fat calculated from a person’s height and weight), being a non-smoker, having a controlled blood pressure, having a controlled blood sugar, and having cholesterol levels controlled.
Customers that haven’t met the healthy living goals but commit to working towards them will also pay lower out of pocket costs, she said.
The Blue Care Network is looking to expand the program’s offerings as it continues to be successful, Keshishian said.
Wellness incentives were a focus of Gov. Rick Snyder’s Health Care special message in September, the Michigan Department of Community Health’s agenda and the Michigan Manufacturers Association’s priorities.
Because Michigan manufactures compete nationally and globally, they seek the most competitive work force, said Delaney Newberry, director of human resource policy at the Michigan Manufacturers Association. The healthiest employees produce the most competitive work.
The goal is to make Michigan healthier, Keshishian said. Some people need to be offered financial incentives to be motivated to get healthier.
“A big component of [Gov. Snyder’s] message was trying to find ways to encourage not only private, but also public employers to incorporate wellness incentives in their health care benefits,” Newberry said.
Snyder used his special message to encourage communities as a whole to participate in wellness incentives. “Community-based collaboration is key,” he said.
Communities, employers, and citizens need to be involved.
“One recent study concluded that each employer dollar spent on intervention resulted in $6 worth of savings,” he said. “Accordingly, I call on employers to consider both the economic and civic benefits of instituting employee wellness programs.”
The Michigan Department of Community Health believes the workplace is a key environment for healthy changes to be made, said Angela Minicuci, public information officer for the Michigan Department of Community Health.
As health care costs increase, manufacturers look for any way to save money while still offering quality benefits, Newberry said. “Wellness incentives are a perfect way to do that.”
Insurance companies aren’t the only ones offering incentives.
Companies themselves have internal wellness challenges, Newberry said. Some have weight loss challenges and programs.
Companies can build community partnerships with the YMCA and get discounts for employees to work out and get healthy, she said.
The goal is to get ahead of the game, Newberry said. If businesses can improve health with wellness incentives, they can save money on health care claims in the long run.
“Michigan’s voluntary employee wellness programs provide many tools and services for residents to work on their own health,” Minicuci said. “It will take the active involvement of many public and private partners to change systems, community, and individual behaviors.”
Wellness incentives may not be as effective in the small business world.
Small business health insurance claims get pooled together across Michigan, said Scott Lyon, vice president of small business services at the Small Business Association of Michigan. Small businesses don’t always receive economic benefits from employees’ attempts to improve their health.
One small business may invest in wellness incentives, but not every business in the pool does so, he said. The businesses combined drive the premium.
Larger businesses can make claims and track those claims to their employees, Lyon said. Because small businesses are pooled, it is harder to track an individual business’s savings.
The Michigan Manufacturers Association offers wellness incentives, Newberry said. They encourage their employees to participate in healthy activities.
“People are most productive if they are happy, they’re healthy and they’re at work performing their jobs,” Newberry said.
© 2011, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Nonmembers cannot reproduce CNS articles without written permission.
By COURTNEY CULEY