Category Archives: healthcare

The Incredibly Shrinking Carrier Market

It’s official: Anthem announced this morning plans to purchase Cigna for more than $48 billion.

Word Cloud Merger & Acquisitions

Word Cloud Merger & Acquisitions

Coming on the heels of Aetna’s $37 billion proposed deal to acquire Humana, the Anthem-Cigna proposed merger, were it to be given the green light by regulators, would inevitably reshape the health-insurance landscape and provide employers with one less option to consider. But according to experts I spoke to earlier today, deals like the one announced this morning also have the potential of being a boon to employers and employees.

If the Anthem-Cigna transaction goes through, Anthem will have more than $115 billion in pro forma annual revenues, based on the most recent 2015 outlooks publicly reported by both companies. Anthem President and CEO Joseph Swedish would serve as chairman and CEO of the combined company and Cigna’s President and CEO David Cordani would take on the titles of president and COO.

Here’s Swedish’s take on the proposed merger …

“We believe that this transaction will allow us to enhance our competitive position and be better positioned to apply the insights and access of a broad network and dedicated local presence to the health care challenges of the increasingly diverse markets, membership, and communities we serve. The Cigna team has built a set of capabilities that greatly complement our own offerings and the combined company will have a competitive presence across commercial, government, international and specialty segments. These expanded capabilities will enable us to better serve our customers as their health care needs evolve.”

And Cordani’s take …

“The complementary nature of our businesses will allow us to leverage the deep global health care knowledge, local market talent, and expertise of both organizations to ensure that consumers have access to affordable and personalized solutions across diverse life and health stages and position us for sustained success.”

There’s been three national players for a while, with all three of them trying strengthen their portfolios through mergers, explained Tucker Sharp, global chief broking officer at Aon Hewitt in Somerset, N.J. “Someone can put out a headline that says, ‘Five carriers become three.’ But there really have been three national players and what’s happening here is really about building scale … .”

Sharp also noted that lately there’s a bit of merger one-upmanship going on between the carriers and providers. For some time now, he said, the hospitals and physician groups have quietly been merging to get the upper-hand in negotiating with the carriers. Now, much like “an arms race,” you’re seeing the insurer carriers trying to improve their leverage.

At the end of the day, he said, the operational efficiencies and greater scale gained from these mergers could lead to better deals with health providers and benefit employers.

When I asked Sharp if there’s anything HR leaders should be doing differently in light of the Anthem-Cigna news, he said nothing at the moment, noting it’s going to take time for things to work their way through the regulators. If you’re an HR executive, he added, there’s probably nothing you need to worry about for the rest 2015 and 2016.

I also asked Steve Wojcik, vice president of public policy at National Business Group on Health in Washington, for his assessment of the announcement.

His response: “There are some potential upsides and some potential downsides. In the end, we’re looking for some of the cost savings and pricing to trickle down to the employers and employees. But there also are obviously some concerns, because there are only a few players left standing—so employers that want to put their plan administration out to bid are going to have fewer bidders … .”

Wojcik predicts that the Aetna-Humana deal will probably meet less resistance from regulators than the Anthem-Cigna deal because Humana is a smaller player in the employer market, though a much bigger player in the Medicare market.

In evaluating these deals, he said, regulators need to factor in that the health insurance market is dynamic, not static. They’re going to need to weigh into their thinking, he explained, some of the new entities, such as accountable care organizations, that have emerged in recent years and the impact they’re having on the overall market.

 

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CDHPs Are Closing the Satisfaction Gap

employee health 1Traditional health insurance plans may still be the most popular option among employees, but consumer-driven plans are beginning to catch on with the workforce.

That seems to be the biggest takeaway from new data coming out of the Employee Benefit Research Institute.

Along with Greenwald & Associates, the Washington-based non-profit research institute recently conducted a survey of nearly 2,000 adults between the ages of 21 and 64, who had health insurance through an employer or purchased health insurance on their own, either directly from a carrier or through a government exchange. According to EBRI’s report on the findings, employees enrolled in traditional health plans are expressing greater satisfaction with their coverage than those in consumer-driven health plans, “but the ‘satisfaction gap’ appears to be narrowing.”

Generally speaking, 61 percent of traditional-plan enrollees described themselves as “extremely” or “very” satisfied with their health plans, compared to 46 percent of those in CDHPs, and 37 percent of employees enrolled in high-deductible health plans.

According to EBRI’s Paul Fronstin, however, overall satisfaction rates have been on the upswing among CDHP enrollees in recent years, while the opposite is true for those participating in traditional health plans.

Cost differences may help explain the emergence of this trend, notes Fronstin, the director of EBRI’s Health Research and Education Program and author of the aforementioned report.

Forty-eight percent of traditional-plan participants said they were “extremely” or “very” satisfied with their out-of-pocket costs when EBRI conducted this same poll in 2014. At that time, 19 percent of high-deductible health plan enrollees said the same, as did 26 percent of CDHP participants. In terms of contentment with what they’re paying out of their own pockets, satisfaction rates for all three groups have been trending upward since 2011, according to EBRI.

In addition, employees in CDHPs or HDHPs were less likely than those in traditional plans to recommend their health plans to friends or co-workers, and were less apt to stay with their current plans if given the option to switch plans—as was the case in past years, according to EBRI.

But, as the survey found on a broader scale, “the percentage of HDHP and CDHP enrollees reporting they would be extremely or very likely to recommend their plan to friends or co-workers has been trending upward,” the report notes, “while it has been flat among individuals with traditional coverage.”

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Looking to the Future for Total Rewards

It’s been 15 years since the American Compensation Association changed its name to WorldatWork, reflecting the group’s decision to increase its footprint beyond the world of compensation and embrace a broader total-rewards approach.

ThinkstockPhotos-175679126This year, the Scottsdale, Ariz.-based HR association celebrates its 60th anniversary. And with that milestone comes a revamped total-rewards model.

Announced during the opening session of this week’s WorldatWork’s Total Rewards 2015 Conference and Exposition in Minneapolis, the new model now includes the verb “engage” (which joins attract, motivate and retain in describing total rewards’ contribution to the organization) and the addition of “talent development” as a sixth element of the total-rewards strategy.

WorldatWork’s previous model, introduced in 2006, featured the following five elements: compensation, benefits, work/life, performance and recognition, and development and career opportunities.

Anne Ruddy, president and CEO of WorldatWork, noted that the time was right for the association to re-examine its total-rewards model and make it more relevant to the kinds of issues members are facing today.

Models aside, it would seem many of those attending this year’s conference have their sights set on the future. On Monday afternoon, I attended a packed session presented by Steven Gross, a senior partner at Mercer, entitled “Total Rewards 2020: What to Expect in the Next Five Years Based Upon a Lifetime of Experience.”

Five minutes before the session began, attendees were being turned away at the door because the room was already filled to capacity. (Fortunately, for those unable to attend, the session was scheduled to be repeated the following day.)

Gross, who is based in Mercer’s Philadelphia office, gave attendees a quick rundown of the external factors influencing total rewards today, a glimpse of what the future might look like five years from  now and what steps employers ought to take to prepare for that world.

As might be expected, Gross led off his presentation by acknowledging the crucial role changing workforce demographics is playing in shaping the future of total rewards.

“It’s not only about people living longer, but people working longer,” Gross said. “Think about the implications of one quarter of folks over age 65 and 15 percent of folks over age 70 in the workforce”—and the kinds of challenges these changes are going to present to employers.

Generational differences, he said, are also likely to have an impact, as employers face the formidable challenge of addressing “the different sensitivities” of traditionalists, baby boomers, Gen Xers and millennials.

Other external factors Gross cited included income disparities, diversity, globalization and technology.

Gross predicted that, five years from now, companies will be much more focused on “core employees” who are viewed as being crucial to their organization’s success, will continue to put more weight on individual accountability, and will pay greater attention to personalizing rewards to reflect greater workplace diversity.

Going forward, he said, companies will also be much more focused on “best fit rather than just best practice.” (In other words, he explained, does your total-rewards strategy fit the culture of your organization?)

What’s more, he added, do-it-yourself benefits programs will be far more common five years from now, with self-service becoming an even greater fixture of tomorrow’s workplace. (Gross also joined the chorus of those predicting employers will increasingly be getting  out of the “healthcare business.”)

I suppose we’ll know in five years which of Gross’ predictions were on target—and which ones missed the mark.  But of this we can be fairly certain: Tomorrow’s total-rewards landscape isn’t likely to look anything like the one that exists today. As Gross reminded those attending his session, there are simply too many significant forces at work to ensure that that’s the case.

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Payment Reform Urgently Needed

The way in which healthcare is paid for in the United States is a perverse mess — it rewards unnecessary procedures and is lacking in transparency while failing to reward providers for doing things that are actually needed.

“We know the way we pay for healthcare today is inherently inflationary and often does not lead to the outcomes we want,” said Suzanne F. Delbanco, executive director of Catalyst for Payment Reform, a coalition of employers and healthcare purchasers. She spoke at a general session on payment reform on Day 2 of the Health & Benefits Leadership Conference in Las Vegas.

The CPR is working to create a “critical mass” of employers that would push for changes needed to rectify serious problems — such as those uncovered by a report 15 years ago that found healthcare providers throughout the United States charging wildly varying prices for the same medical procedures that bore no relation to quality or outcomes. A decade and a half later, Delbanco said, little progress has been made.

That’s not to say there aren’t bright spots: New innovations such as accountable care organizations and patient-centered medical homes have proven to be viable alternatives to the traditional fee-for-service model and have resulted in lower prices and better outcomes, she said. The CPR is also encouraging employers to experiment with new approaches such as shared savings and non-payment for botched or unnecessary procedures.

One hurdle has been the fact that many employers are more comfortable making changes to benefit-plan designs that shift more of the cost to employees than in challenging the traditional way in which healthcare is paid for, said Delbanco. “Ideally, employers should be doing both,” she said, adding that employees have generally become more receptive to the need to control costs.

Delbanco was joined on stage by Anna Fallieras, G.E.’s program leader for healthcare initiatives and policy, who described her company’s journey to consumerism.

“Our message to employees is, ‘Be an active consumer: Think about managing costs and getting quality care,’ ” she said, adding that GE spends $2 billion per year on employee healthcare.

GE, which rolled out consumer-driven health plans to its employee population in 2013, also created new tools and services to help them make better healthcare decisions. These include a telephonic health-coach service designed to help employees get access to top-performing healthcare providers, and a treatment cost calculator that offers price and quality information on providers.

The cost calculator has helped employees save between 5 percent and 30 percent on their healthcare bills, said Fallieras. GE also offers a telemedicine service that’s garnered a 90-percent satisfaction rate from employees, she said.

Fallieras called on other employers to join GE in fighting for payment reform. “We can’t do it all ourselves,” she said. “We as employers have a central role.”

 

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Being a Disruptive Force in Healthcare

As snow began to fall on the nation’s capital yesterday morning, attendees at the National Business Group on Health’s Business Health Agenda 2015 conference were inside the J.W. Marriott (Washington) intently listening to NBGH President and CEO Brian Marcotte lay out the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead for healthcare in 2015—and beyond.

452031437During his talk, Marcotte touched on the “disruption” occurring in healthcare today and praised employers for the role they’re playing in “driving innovation.” He described those employers that are leading the way with such innovations as “disrupters.”

“Disruption” is certainly as good a word as any to describe what’s taking place in healthcare today.

No surprise that Marcotte — who was vice president of compensation and benefits at Honeywell for roughly 12 years before replacing Helen Darling as NBGH president and CEO last May — pointed to the Affordable Care Act as healthcare’s biggest disruptive force.

Six years ago, Marcotte said, “[w]hen the CEO would ask the question, ‘Why don’t we just get out of healthcare?’ the answer was simple [because] there was no place for people to go to purchase affordable, high-quality healthcare. Well, the answer is not as simple today.”

Nowadays, he explained, there are several options, including staying the course, private exchanges and public exchanges. As things stand today, he said, “staying the course” continues to be the most efficient way to deliver to employees affordable healthcare. As he explained it,  “[w]e haven’t seen good and consistent data” to suggest otherwise.

At the end of the day, Marcotte added, it all comes down to value and whether or not private exchanges can deliver greater value than today’s self-insured model.

During a session later in the morning, Julie Stone, North America health and group benefits leader for Towers Watson, shared, for the first time, the results of her company’s just-completed 2015 Emerging Trends in Health Care Survey. Among the findings: While 17 percent of 444 employer respondents believe private exchanges provide a viable alternative for employer-sponsored coverage for active full-time employees in 2016, confidence in the approach builds to 37 percent by 2018.

In addition, the Towers Watson study found companies that have done extensive analyses of private exchanges are twice as likely to consider them a viable option in 2016 (29 percent versus 14 percent).

Despite this somewhat promising data, Marcotte said, employers aren’t going to embrace private exchanges until they see more data suggesting it’s the right move to make.

Early on in his remarks, Marcotte emphasized the need for more data, recalling an episode at Honeywell when CEO David Cote put him on the spot at a meeting to back up a statement he made with meaningful data.

CEOs make their decisions based on data, Marcotte said. But with the exception of cost, he continued, the data needed to make the right healthcare decisions aren’t available yet.

In his talk, Marcotte also touched on other disrupters, such as the industry consolidation that’s going on in healthcare. “When will we begin to see the synergies from the consolidation?” he asked.

Another disrupter: emerging delivery models, such as accountable-care organizations. Despite an “explosion” in the number of these organizations, he said, the jury is still out as to “what to make of it.”

“Employers,” he said, “need to know what they’re buying.”

In other words, he said, they need to understand the “value” they’re getting.

As he put it, if you’re going to go to your CEO and say, “We’re going to change the plan design and encourage people to go to ACOs,” that CEO is going to respond, “Why? What’s the value proposition?”

So be ready for that question. And, I would think, be ready with the required data to back your proposal up, because you know you’re going to need it.

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For the Record Book?

In the name of fun—and, oh yes, employee wellness!—some 1,800 University of Washington faculty, staff and student employees assembled at Husky Stadium yesterday to take part in an umbrella dance with the hopes of earning a Guinness World Record. (Promotional video is embedded below.)

The participants performed their would-be record-breaking dance to Taylor Swift’s “Shake it Off,” with the goal of kicking off “a new year of community and wellness,” according to UW.

In case you’re wondering, the previous record for the world’s largest umbrella dance was set across the Pacific in Japan by 1,688 participants last August.

To break the record, dancers are required to perform a synchronized routine for five minutes. In preparation, these participants held six group dance rehearsals. In addition, dancers took part at UW campuses in Bothell and Tacoma.

You can check out the actual event here at the Seattle Times website.

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Bullish on Wellness

Good news out of the Society for Human Resource Management yesterday for those looking to move the needle on greater employee buy-in for wellness.

174186054According to the association’s Strategic Benefits survey, more than one-half (53 percent) of the 380 responding employers said employee participation in wellness programs climbed last year. This follows similar findings in 2013 and 2012, when 56 percent and 54 percent of the respondents, respectively, reported a jump.

What’s more, more than two-thirds of the employers that offered wellness indicated that their initiatives were either “somewhat effective” or “very effective” in reducing the costs of healthcare in 2014 (72 percent), 2013 (71 percent) and 2012 (68 percent).

The SHRM study also found two-thirds (67 percent) of organizations with such initiatives in place offered incentives or rewards aimed at increasing participation, representing an upward trend from 2013 (56 percent) and 2012 (57 percent).

Of those organizations offering wellness incentives or rewards, 85 percent said these incentives were “somewhat” or “very” effective in increasing employee participation.

The study also found the number of organizations with wellness programs was on the rise in 2014, with about three-quarters (76 percent) of the respondents saying they offered some type of wellness program to employees last year, an increase from 70 percent in 2012.

In all, these findings paint a fairly positive picture as far as wellness is concerned. But one weak link uncovered in the SHRM research, not surprisingly, continues to be on the measurement front. Few companies, SHRM reports, are actually measuring the ROI or cost-savings analyses of their efforts (18 percent and 30 percent, respectively).

Nine in 10 (90 percent) of the respondents whose organizations had wellness initiatives said their organizations would increase their investments in its wellness initiatives if they could better quantify their impact.

(Some critics would argue that, were they to measure the effectiveness of these programs, they might not be nearly so bullish.)

The SHRM research also looked at flexible-work arrangements, finding that about one-half (52 percent) of organizations provided employees with the option to use FWAs, such as teleworking. Of those offering employees such options, about one-third (31 percent) said participation in these initiatives increased last year, compared to the year before. Just 1 percent indicated employee participation had decreased.

Though one in two employers provided employees with the option to use flexible-work arrangements, the survey found only one-third (33 percent) reporting that the majority of their employees were actually allowed to use them.

Something I would think employers will need to address, sooner rather than later, considering Gen Yers (big proponents of flextime) are projected to represent the majority of the workforce in the not-too-distant future.

 

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Eliminating Silos in Health and Safety

Few of us need to be sold on the merits of greater collaboration. But if there were any doubts about what it’s able to bring to the areas of health and safety, Dr. Casey Chosewood put them to rest yesterday morning during his opening keynote speech at the National Workers’ Compensation and Disability Conference® in Las Vegas.

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Dr. Casey Chosewood, speaking at the National Workers’ Compensation and Disability Conference on Wednesday.

“Too many organizations today still have silos [that] are unconnected,” said Chosewood, chief medical officer and director of the Office for Total Worker Health Coordination and Research at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (part of the Centers for Disease Control). “But that has to change. We have to put everything under one umbrella and take a more integrated approach.”

Remarkable things can happen when each of the components talk to one another, align their goals, understand the financial challenges of others and work on finding solutions, Chosewood told the packed room of attendees.

Of course, in the world of business, the elimination of silos, as a concept, comes up a lot. But it seems to be an especially powerful idea when it’s applied to safety and health.

Early in his talk, Chosewood took a few minutes to touch on the Ebola outbreak, which is also the subject of Carol Harnett’s Benefits Column posted earlier this week.

“I’m frequently asked if the CDC has a handle on the problem,” Chosewood said, “and that’s a fair question.”

As of today, he explained, there have been eight cases of Ebola in the United States, compared to 14,000 known cases in West Africa (a figure he believes is probably closer to between 20,000 and 28,000).

Chosewood said the CDC believes the risk of Ebola here in the United States remains very low, though he added that doesn’t negate the seriousness of the disease and the need to put “more resources on the ground in West Africa” to address it.

Returning to the focus of his talk, Chosewood said people would be mistaken were they to think they could separate work and home as far as health and well-being are concerned. “You can’t leave what happens at home on the kitchen table [just as] you can’t leave what happens at work on your desk. You shuttle them back and forth.”

Chosewood cited the example of a person who works in a factory who is exposed to lead and then brings it home to an unsuspecting child on the surface of his or her clothing. “Risks don’t just stay in one place,” he said.

During his talk, Chosewood also touched on the importance of changing the culture of the organization. Quoting Sir Michael Marmot (a professor at the University College London), he said it’s “unreasonable to expect people to change their behavior when the social, cultural and physical environments around them fully conspire against them.”

Chosewood shared a close-to-home illustration of the kinds of steps that can be taken.

When the CDC ran out of places to park and needed to build a new parking garage, Chosewood (then in charge of safety and health there) said he intentionally proposed picking a site that required workers to walk 15 minutes. While the move initially made him quite unpopular and existing employees complained about the distance, he said, new hires haven’t complained at all.

In addressing health and safety issues, he said, employers need to be willing to take “short-term heat” for “long-term gain.”

Chosewood said next on the Center’s to-do list will be to slow down the elevators so impatient workers will take the stairs. (I wasn’t sure if he was serious or kidding.)

According to Chosewood, there are three kinds of companies: bad, good and the best. Bad companies, he said, don’t do anything to keep their workers healthy and safe; good companies keep them protected from injury and illness; and the best do what’s needed to ensure their workers go home more healthy at the end of the day.

Employers that fall in this “best” category, he said, will enjoy more engagement, greater productivity and lower injury risk.

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The Pitfalls of Consumerism

Do you put as much thought into selecting your cellphone plan as you do for selecting which doctors and specialists to see for your medical plans?

This question was posed at the National Business Coalition on Health’s annual conference in Washington by Shawn Leavitt, senior vice president of global benefits at Comcast Corp., during his keynote address.

“More than half of all consumers say they’re dissatisfied with the cellphone plan they chose,” he said. “So, if people are having a hard time selecting a cellphone plan that’s right for them, then how do we expect them to make the right decisions with respect to their health plan and health providers?”

The subject of Leavitt’s presentation was that healthcare consumerism — high-deductible plans that put more of the onus for financing and managing healthcare on employees — will not work unless employees receive more expert direction and guidance to help them.

At Comcast, said Leavitt, HR has enlisted so-called “expert shoppers” to help employees with these crucial decisions. It’s coupled that with outreach to certain locations within its vast empire to focus on subsectors — such as call centers — where employees were making heavy use of emergency rooms (and driving up costs) to educate employees on alternatives such as urgent care centers.

“We understand that it’s hard to expect employees who are juggling multiple responsibilities to make the sort of far-sighted decisions we’d like them to make when they’re faced with something as immediate as a sick child,” said Leavitt.

Comcast is using its own marketing wizardry to help educate employees on making wiser healthcare choices, he said. “We have become very good at getting consumers to pay to watch bad movies and reality television shows,” said Leavitt. “We’re focused on bringing that same level of expertise to help our employees make good decisions on healthcare.”

The risks of consumerism were also highlighted by Dr. Mark Fendrick during a panel discussion on pharmacy drug benefits. One of the main questions the panel grappled with was whether it was right for plan sponsors to exclude certain medications from plan coverage.

“If you’re doing that just to save money, I don’t think it’s a good idea,” said Fendrick, director of the University of Michigan’s Center for Value-Based Insurance Design. “I think it’s OK if the drug has been proved to be ineffective or counterproductive or if cheaper generics of equivalent effectiveness are available. But do it for the right reasons.”

The trend of pushing more costs onto employees can end up doing more harm than good if it isn’t managed carefully, he said. “Raising deductibles and pushing more of the cost onto employees without giving them support necessary for needed treatment and medications will simply cause more of them to forgo what they need,” he said. “I’ve had patients tell me that until they exhaust their deductible, they’re not going to do many of the things I’ve told them they need to do to maintain their health. And that goes against what this whole idea of consumerism is supposed to be about.”

 

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The Wellness Journey Continues …

Earlier this month, the Economist Intelligence Unit released a study (sponsored by Humana) of 255 executives. It found that roughly 70 percent of the respondents believe their organization’s wellness programs are effective, even though only 31 percent deploy some sort of “rigorous evaluation methods.”

Kevin Volpp, founding director of the Leonard Davis Institute Center for Health Incentives and Behavioral Economics, is quoted in the report saying he believes asking whether wellness [programs] have value based solely on return on investment is a mistake. Instead, the question should be, “Do we improve health at a reasonable price.”

185998025At this year’s Benefits Forum & Expo at the Boca Raton Resort in Florida, there seemed to be ample evidence that the business community’s commitment to wellness is very much alive and well, even if the data isn’t nearly as visible as some might like.

As might be expected, many of the employers featured on the program are, with the help of the vendor community, applying tools such as biometric screenings, health coaches and gamification in their attempts to improve the well-being of their workforces and, in turn (hopefully), reap meaningful productivity gains. (Such approaches will also be explored at HRE‘s Health and Benefits Leadership Conference next April.)

During a session titled “Domino’s Pizza: Evolving Wellness Strategy into Business Strategy,” Domino’s Director of Benefits Sandra Lollo shared some of the outcomes her company has achieved through the use of Quest Diagnostics’ Blueprint for Wellness tool, which has served as the cornerstone of its wellness efforts for quite some time. Lollo noted that Domino’s uses four key performance indicators to gauge its progress: participation, a health-quotient score (including a wellness scorecard combined with HRA), metabolic-syndrome risks (targeting BMI) and tobacco use.

Eight years into its effort, Lollo reports, Domino’s has seen discernible improvement on each of these fronts. In the case of the tobacco-use KPI, for instance, the percentage of tobacco users has been cut in half, dropping from 26 percent to 13 percent over that period.

The company’s benefits team is currently in the process of rebranding its effort (“dusting it off,” Lollo says) and pursuing a more holistic approach to wellness, including adding components that address issues such as financial wellness.

As might be expected, gamification found a decent amount of air time at the conference. In a session titled “Gamifying Wellness: How to Challenge Employees to Lead Healthier Lives,” Goldenwest Credit Union Assistant Vice President of HR Ashley Shreeve co-presented with hubbub Vice President of Sales and Marketing Brian Berchtold and shared some of the ways her 421-employee firm has used the hubbub platform to drive engagement and change behaviors.

Through simply named challenges such as “Walk the Dog” (a 14-day challenge that involves, yes, dog walking) and “Home Cooking” (a 14-day challenge aimed at eating healthier foods), Goldenwest is getting employees to take a small but valuable step in a better direction. (In other words, don’t bite off more than you can chew?)

One of the goals, Berchtold said, is to get employees to understand that wellness doesn’t end at 5 p.m.; it’s something that needs to be 24/7.

Goldenwest is attempting to undo the fact that “we’re asking our employees to be unhealthy by having them sit behind a desk all day,” Shreeve said.

For the 421-employee credit union, encouraging participation has not been a problem. All of its employees are currently on the platform and have, last count, completed more than 18,440 challenges.

(Here’s another interesting stat I jotted down from the session: There are more than 43,000 weight-loss/fitness apps out there today.)

Of course, gamification may not be the answer for every organization.

Elkay Manufacturing Co. Corporate Manager of Compensation and Benefits Carol Partington offered me a preview of a session she was slated to present later in the day with Interactive Health Senior Wellness Strategies Sandi Eskew: “Elkay Manufacturing: Tune Up Your Wellness Program.”

Elkay is entering its third year of on-site screening through Interactive Health. Under the program, employees who participate in the screening and independently declare they’re not tobacco users pay 20 percent less for their healthcare than a person who doesn’t do either of those things. From a financial standpoint, Partington said, that translates to about a $1,000 per year.

As with most things, the success of these initiatives often hinges on how well they’re communicated.

“We need to get employees to understand what we’re doing and that there’s a partnership; they’re not in it all by themselves,” Partington said. To that end, Partington and her team have worked hard to get the messages out into the workplace and employee homes. “You’d have to have your head in the sand if you didn’t know what’s going on,” she said.

What’s proven to be the most effective way to get these messages out there at Elkay? Through the organization’s plant managers, says Partington, because “it’s not corporate giving the message” … it’s coming from someone the employees know and trust.

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