Published on February 10, 2012

Genesis Bends Curve On Rising Employee Health Costs

Employees succeed with healthy lifestyle changes

Ross Christopher, a machine repairman at the Genesis, Illini Campus, has lost 35 pounds over three years. He reduced his blood pressure, waist circumference and triglyceride levels.

Dr. Christopher Posey of the Genesis, East Rusholme Street Emergency Department used to take 100 units of insulin daily. Now, he takes none. His waist size has decreased from 48 to 36 inches.

Sara Birtell, RN, of Genesis Health Group, Eldridge, found a great lifetime eating plan. She realized that sugary soft drinks were a major contributor to her weight gain and now drinks unsweetened iced tea instead.

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They are among many Genesis employees who have reduced their risk for heart disease, stroke and diabetes through the Genesis Healthy Lifestyles program and played a role in keeping their medical plan premiums affordable.

Unlike many employers who have had to pass rapidly rising insurance premium costs onto their employees, Genesis Health System is successfully fighting the national trend. Employees are sharing the benefits, both in their wellness and in their out-of-pocket costs.

Taking a proactive approach has stabilized the health system’s cost of providing health care for Genesis employees and dependents who participate in health insurance plans. Employees, in turn, have faced only slight increases in their health premium costs over the past four years.

Across the country, employers and their employees have been hit with annual percentage increases of double digits in costs for health insurance. Reducing benefits or raising employee contributions are common actions to hold the line on rising costs.

Cost-savings

Here is a look at how Genesis has bucked the national trend:

• The total cost of health care for each covered individual in the Genesis Health System plans has remained essentially flat for five years with no benefit reductions.

• The difference between expected cost per covered person and actual cost has resulted in $20.8 million in savings over the past four years for Genesis Health System. Genesis employees have saved $4.4 million in their personal costs, compared to average premium increases across the country.

• The average total cost of each individual’s health coverage in the Genesis plan for 2006 was $8,675. By 2010, the expected cost had jumped to $12,196 for each covered person nationally (Hewitt 2010 Survey) but the actual total cost for each covered person in the Genesis plans was $9,116 per employee.

“Few companies across the country have had the same experience Genesis has had with providing health care for employees over the past few years,’’ said Steve Johnson, compensation and benefit director for Genesis. “We’ve bent that steep upward curve in costs; we’ve reduced our paid claims; and, have passed the savings back to employees who meet wellness initiatives.’’

All benefit-eligible Genesis employees and covered spouses who meet the goals of a systemwide wellness program in 2012 will earn wellness discounts ranging from $780 to $1,560 per year in their share of health insurance cost.

To earn the discounts, Genesis employees and covered spouses voluntarily participate in a no-cost biometric screening in the fall to determine their risk for Metabolic Syndrome. Metabolic Syndrome is a combination of risk factors that puts individuals at elevated risk for diabetes, heart disease, stroke and other lifethreatening illnesses.

The annual biometric screening determines an employee’s baseline for waist measurement, blood pressure, triglycerides, fasting blood sugar and HDL (good) cholesterol. The blood test also determines whether an employee is using tobacco products.

If an employee or covered spouse has three or more of the five risk factors for Metabolic Syndrome, or uses tobacco, they will rescreen in May of 2012. If they have one less risk factor and are tobaccofree, they will earn the wellness discount for their health insurance premiums. If they have not lowered the number of risk factors by at least one factor, or stopped using tobacco, they will pay a higher health insurance premium.

Employees trying to reduce their risk factors are not on their own. They can participate in several programs to help them achieve their risk-reduction goal.

These programs are provided at no cost to the employee or their covered spouse. The programs include Naturally Slim® Healthy Lifestyles, a 10-week class offered live or online. Naturally Slim® is a nationally available program that discusses weight loss, responsible nutrition, exercise, sugar intake reduction, mindful eating and the recognition of true hunger levels.

Weight Watchers® and tobacco cessation are other options for employees to reduce their risk factors.

Any covered individual who has less than three risk factors for Metabolic Syndrome and tests tobacco-free is automatically eligible for the wellness discount. Any individual who declines the screening receives coverage at the higher premium cost.

The results have been very positive.

Last year, 750 Genesis employees and spouses participated in the Naturally Slim® Healthy Lifestyles program.

At the end of 10 weeks, almost half of the program participants who started the program with Metabolic Syndrome (three or more risk factors present) no longer had the risk factors.

“Our experience with the program is that it works and many of our employees have been able to reduce their risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes, while also reducing their weight,” explained Johnson. “We were so confident with the benefits of this program that we made a decision after the pilot project that was very unusual these days: We reduced the cost of health care premiums for thousands of our employees.’’

Genesis Occupational Health provides and manages wellness screening programs for other employers and their covered employees regionally.

Genesis Health System and UnitedHealthcare also launched a new regional health plan in 2011 that includes similar wellness features. The Heritage Premier Plan is designed to promote healthy habits among employees and help employers keep health plans affordable.

Genesis employees also have access to wellness and fitness classes offered by the Genesis Wellpower program throughout the year. Exercise options and discounts to fitness facilities are available to employees.

“Genesis employees spend their careers caring for others. We want them to take care of themselves so they are able to enjoy a longer, more satisfying life and career,’’ Johnson added. “The wellness of our employees will also help Genesis reduce employee health costs in the long run.’

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