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Wellness Programs Gaining Momentum

Eileen Koutnik-Fotopoulos, Staff Writer, Pharmacy Times
Published Online: Monday, October 1, 2007   [ Request Print ]

The overwhelming cost of health care is prompting companies to seek alternative ways to contain these costs while still protecting the health of employees. The Asheville Project has become a model for wellness programs.

?Employee wellness programs can greatly benefit both employers and employees. These creative programs are a great way to promote better health, which ultimately improves quality of life and lowers the cost of health care for everyone involved,? said Sen Richard Burr (R, NC), a champion of the Asheville model which began in his home state 10 years ago.

The ?Reducing Corporate Health Care Costs 2006 Survey,? conducted by the Human Capital Practice of Deloitte Consulting and the Deloitte Center for Health Solutions, looked at 152 large employers across the country. The survey found that 74% of the respondents offer some type of disease management program, with 63% offering one through their health plan and 11% offering a program through a specialty carrier. Diabetes, asthma, and cardiovascular disease top the popular programs. Of the respondents, 90% offer a diabetes program, and 77% offer an asthma program.

Aside from disease state management programs, the survey also indicated that 93% of survey respondents offer some kind of wellness program:

  • 74% offer flu shots
  • 45% offer a smoking cessation program
  • 40% offer an on-site workout facility, diet group, or subsidized gym program

Some employers are taking it a step further by offering free drugs to help employees manage chronic diseases including diabetes, hypertension, asthma, and depression. Major employers such as Marriott International and Maine?s state government have introduced free drug programs to prevent footing the bill for more expensive treatments in the future.

Companies are now aware that ?if you get people?s obesity down, cholesterol down, asthma down, you save a lot of money,? said Uwe E. Reinhardt, a health economist at Princeton University, in the February 21, 2007, issue of the New York Times.

In Maine, for example, the state found it was spending >$20 million a year on treatment for about 2000 diabetes patients in the state?s health plan,? according to the article. Frank Johnson, the Maine plan?s administrator, said half of the individuals with diabetes also had at least 1 additional serious health problem.

The state worked with Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield to begin offering free drugs and supplies to employees with diabetes who agreed to participate in face-to-face interviews with nurse educators and a year of follow-up telephone sessions.

Drugmakers also are supporting the effort. For example, Merck is now redefining its approach to drug development and marketing based on value proposition. In an editorial in the November 2006 issue of the American Journal of Managed Care, Richard T. Clark, Merck?s chief executive officer, said, ?If we all don?t do a better job, the private employer-based market will continue to weaken and the country will move toward rationing of care and greater government control, with greater pressure for a single-payer model with price controls.?

Free medicine is a motivator for individuals with serious health problems. It will help individuals stay compliant with their prescribed regimens. Furthermore, it will help individuals form relationships with pharmacists and nurses who monitor their weight changes, blood pressure, heart rate, and other vital signs.

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