Wellness Programs Gaining Momentum

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The overwhelming cost of health care is promptingcompanies to seek alternative ways to containthese costs while still protecting the health ofemployees. The Asheville Project has become amodel for wellness programs.

?Employee wellness programs can greatly benefit bothemployers and employees. These creative programs are agreat way to promote better health, which ultimatelyimproves quality of life and lowers the cost of health carefor everyone involved,? said Sen Richard Burr (R, NC), achampion of the Asheville model which began in his homestate 10 years ago.

The ?Reducing Corporate Health Care Costs 2006Survey,? conducted by the Human Capital Practice ofDeloitte Consulting and the Deloitte Center for HealthSolutions, looked at 152large employers across thecountry. The survey foundthat 74% of the respondentsoffer some type of diseasemanagement program, with63% offering one throughtheir 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.

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

Some employers are taking it a step further by offeringfree drugs to help employees manage chronic diseasesincluding diabetes, hypertension, asthma, and depression.Major employers such as Marriott International andMaine?s state government have introduced free drug programsto prevent footing the bill for more expensive treatmentsin the future.

Companies are now aware that ?if you get people?s obesitydown, cholesterol down, asthma down, you save a lotof money,? said Uwe E. Reinhardt, a health economist atPrinceton University, in the February 21, 2007, issue ofthe New York Times.

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

The state worked with Anthem Blue Cross and BlueShield to begin offering free drugs and supplies to employeeswith diabetes who agreed to participate in face-to-faceinterviews with nurse educators and a year of follow-uptelephone sessions.

Drugmakers also are supportingthe effort. For example,Merck is now redefiningits approach to drug developmentand marketing basedon value proposition. In aneditorial in the November2006 issue of the American Journal of Managed Care,Richard T. Clark, Merck?s chief executive officer, said, ?Ifwe all don?t do a better job, the private employer-basedmarket will continue to weaken and the country will movetoward rationing of care and greater government control,with greater pressure for a single-payer model with pricecontrols.?

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