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Getting Fit Pays Dividends

KSAL Staff - September 3, 2013 7:59 am


The Topeka Capital-Journal:

Wellness programs are appearing in more and more workplace health insurance plans, with lower premiums often the “carrot” encouraging workers to take charge of their health in an attempt to reduce plan costs.

Topeka’s Unified School District 501 is one such employer that has embraced this model of personal responsibility. By participating in wellness activities – two per quarter are required, including an annual online health risk screening – USD 501 employees are able to maintain lower insurance premiums. The current employee cost for a single plan is $20 per month.

The “stick,” if you will, is that those who choose not to participate in the wellness activities pay more for their premiums – an additional $96 per month for a single plan.

So far, the district reports, 99 percent of its insured pool took advantage of the program last school year. This despite the fact that the district acknowledges the idea initially wasn’t popular. Schools are offering different – and dare we say, fun – activities to meet the requirements, such as walking groups, volleyball teams and kickboxing classes.

Wellness programs may feel like just another hoop to jump through for employees, but it makes sense that these incentives can have real positive benefits. Results seem to indicate that the USD 501 plan is having the intended effect. The district’s total insurance claims are steady, use of emergency room services has decreased 13 percent, and use of preventive services has risen.

We don’t have to be part of an insurance plan with these requirements, though, to reap similar rewards. We all should be making sure we get our annual physicals, or as they’re often called these days, “wellness” checks, to ensure that we’re addressing any health issues before they rise to a level requiring additional, and often more expensive, care. Visits to the emergency room for nonemergencies are much more costly than going to an urgent care office or one’s doctor. Generic drugs, when available, greatly reduce the cost of prescriptions.

Not only can these simple changes save us money, but they also reduce the costs to one’s overall health insurance pool and, in the aggregate, could help slow down rising premiums.

More insurance plans may begin offering the “carrot-and-stick” incentives, though, too. Whereas current caps limit discounting on premiums to 20 percent of the total cost of the coverage for participating in wellness programs, under the Affordable Care Act, companies will be able to reduce premiums up to 30 percent.

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