Employee testing for the health of it
EDWARDS God loves you and wants you to be with him, but probably not starting today.Its also not a theological stretch to say that God wants you to keep some of the money youre spending on health care, instead of enriching insurance companies that are already obscenely wealthy.And were on pretty safe ground to say that both you and God want you to be able to walk from the couch to the chair without stopping to rest.But alas, chances are at least half of your health problems are self-inflicted you dont exercise enough and you eat most of the wrong stuff.Norman Jones is president of Boulder-based McMahon & Company, a benefit and insurance consulting company affiliated with SimplyWell of Omaha, Neb. Basically, Jones and his crew travel around doing employee health screenings that pinpoint potential problems employees might have that would increase their healthcare costs.
On Tuesday, Jones was in Edwards poking and prodding the crew from Slifer Designs, who turned out to be a fairly healthy lot.Kim Wolfe is human-resources director for Slifer Designs and helped set up the weeks screening.We love it, Wolfe said. Its doing the right thing, and we try to do that as much as possible. Its been a push for us for a long time. As we mature as a company, our employees are also maturing.We want to focus on wellness instead of illness.Employees undergo a comprehensive and confidential physical examination, and are told where they need to improve. For instance, you may be told that your fast driving puts your health at risk, or that your high percentage of body fat puts you at risk for heart disease.You can make behavioral modifications to improve your health. Theyre not complicated, but theyre not easy.It takes about two years to completely change an ingrained behavior, Jones said. Not coincidentally, it takes about two years to see any reduction in healthcare costs. And even then, while they might not go down, they wont go up either and with healthcare costs rising twice as fast as inflation, thats a dollar sign worth chasing.The return on investment is quite long, Jones said. It takes about 24 months to change someones lifestyle and about three years for the company to realize any cost savings. Thats a stretch for most firms.But like all investments, the key is patience. Once the savings start, the return on investment is about 3.5-to-1, Jones said.
They start with testing and a questionnaire that asks you about everything right down to your driving habits. Apparently, really dangerous driving is hazardous to your health. That information, combined with your basic health data is combined to give you a quick look at your health.For some people, this the most detailed health screening theyve ever had, Jones said. Theyre unaware of their health conditions.Employees who participate in different wellness events earn points, which add up to various bonuses given by their employer such as subsidies for ski-season passes, which Slifer is offering for those who participate, to reduced medical premiums and contributions to their flexible-spending accounts.Much of the initial motivation to get tested and get started comes from incentives, Jones said.He said companies will give bonuses for things like attending fitness classes, lunch-and-learn sessions, subsidizing ski passes and health club memberships, and possible cuts in health insurance rates lower rates for those who behave themselves. For example, marathon-running vegetarians would pay less than obese smokers.With auto insurance, the rates for bad drivers are higher, Jones said.The major factors are easy to spot, things like stress, pre-diabetic tests and overall physical health and fitness. Behavior patterns like bad driving and refusing to exercise are tougher and can take two years to change completely.
Health screening is a great idea that has not yet caught on in the U.S. Large companies do it, but very few small and mid-sized companies do about 5 percent.Possibly, the companies are apprehensive about it, Jones said. Theres a lot of personal information and its confidential. They also might not want to get that involved in peoples lives.There are other ways to do it besides trying to change behaviors, Jones said like the guy in Michigan who fired all his employees who smoke, which is not the textbook way of doing things.Given the obvious correlation between an employees behavior and the healthcare costs associated with that behavior, there has been a surge of interest in personal-wellness programs, he says. Throughout Colorado, companies are developing personal-wellness programs designed to improve employees health through diet, exercise, and other lifestyle choices.Vail, Colorado
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