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Bending the cost curve with employee wellness

Posted Apr 01 2011 4:06pm

by Todd Linden

The words "I Choose Health" conjure up many different thoughts from the employees of Grinnell Regional Medical Center. For some, it may bring a frown. For others, it brings a smile. And for many of us, it brings literally blood, sweat and perhaps, even tears.

What is "I Choose Health"? ICH is GMRC's employee health and wellness program. Embedded in our self-funded health insurance program, ICH has been developed over the past several years to improve the health of our staff members while reducing costs for our health insurance plan.

The goal of ICH is to encourage employees and their families to improve behaviors that impact personal health such as eating habits and physical activity. Focusing on prevention, each participant has a checklist of requirements to be completed each year. These include:

  • A signed physical exam form from their physician.
  • HeartMath Transforming Stress Workshops
  • A dental preventive exam form.
  • An exercise log.
  • Blood work results.
  • A breathing test to measure nicotine levels or the completion of a tobacco cessation class.
  • An online health risk assessment.
  • Health management education activities.

Those who choose to participate and meet the requirements of the program are provided with a richer insurance package. Those who choose not to participate or who do not meet the requirements have higher co-pays, deductibles and out-of-pocket expenses. I suppose some of our team members would see that last component as more of a stick and less of a carrot, and some do refer to the program as "I Force Health."

But thanks in large part to our wellness team, IHC has been a resounding success! Healthier employees and spouses is the best part. Take for example the letter I received just last week:

To the ICH staff,

I'd like to personally thank you for the program that is offered to all employees. It is because of this program that I have a healthier diet and have gotten stronger physically and mentally than I ever have in my past. I go to the gym four days a week. For the first two years of keeping track of how many days I would have to accumulate just to reach the goal of 100 days of exercise, it seemed like a burden. But now since October of last year it has been more like an addiction. I seem to have more energy than years prior and look forward to going to the gym and lifting weights. It is for the program, the staff and my employer that I am thankful for getting me on the right track.

We've also bent the cost curve with our health insurance plan. For the past five years we have reduced the claims increases to only 2.9 percent per year. This resulted in a savings of nearly $3 million over the last three years compared to the average industry increase in claims costs.

Add to that a dramatic decrease in worker's comp claims over the same period and the CFO has even more reasons to celebrate.

It's possibly true that if all the employers in our service area implemented our wellness plan at their workplaces, the volume of patients to our medical center would decrease and we would lose great sums of revenue. We would, however, be true to our mission of improving the quality of life to the members of our community. Our vision of a healthier and more productive community may not make us profitable today. However, in a world where no one can afford healthcare and major changes in both reimbursement and the delivery of care are on the horizon, we believe this direction is the only answer for the health and economic well-being of our country. Healthcare providers should be the leaders in this movement toward a "healthcare system" and accelerate the departure from the current "sick care system."

Todd Linden is the CEO of Grinnell Regional Medical Center, a rural community hospital in Grinnell, Iowa.

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