Thursday, December 30, 2010

BBT: Putting our wellness where our money is.

Regardless of whether you supported the landmark health care legislation that was passed by the Democrat-majority Congress in March 2010, one thing is for certain: leaders of the soon-to-be Republican-majority House of Representatives have stated that they want the legislation repealed.

While no one knows how this political arm wrestling will impact the nation’s health care in the years to come, there are related issues that need immediate attention. According to a 2007 study by Milken Institute more than 109 million Americans (about one in three) have cancer, diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, pulmonary conditions, mental disorders, or have experienced a stroke. At the time of the study, these health problems made a whopping $1.3 trillion annual impact on the economy, equal to about 9 percent of the US gross domestic product. With the federal government announcing in November that 59 million Americans do not have medical insurance, it is clear that these issues need immediate bipartisan attention.

In the meantime, there are many steps that can be taken to improve the health of individuals while trying to tame ever-increasing medical expenses. Brethren Benefit Trust will soon take one such step. On Jan. 1, BBT will institute a company-wide wellness initiative--an elective program that we offer to all Brethren Medical Plan employer groups.

According to numerous sources, a wellness program with an incentive improves the overall claims experience of employee medical insurance plans, which in turn helps reduce employer health care costs. Second, there is a reduction of workplace injuries. Third, there is an improvement in employee productivity. Fourth, there is a decrease in absenteeism. I also believe such a plan will result in improved corporate morale and camaraderie as people’s self esteem increases.

In mid-January, each participating BBT staff person will undergo a blood draw. Soon thereafter, each employee will receive a confidential health assessment. At mid-year, employees will undergo a second blood draw and receive an updated assessment. Beginning in 2012, staff members must participate in the blood draws and meet certain health benchmarks (or obtain a medical waiver from their physicians). Employees who choose not to participate in 2011 or who do not meet the health benchmarks in subsequent years will be assessed a wellness premium that is equal to 20 percent of BBT’s individual employee medical insurance premium.

Claims from this program will be billed through the Brethren Medical Plan’s preventive care component. While the wellness blood draw will replace other preventive blood work (because the wellness blood work is comprehensive, preventive, and the results can be shared with physicians), the plan will still allow other preventive measures like annual physicals.

To some, this program might not seem very desirable. I understand. As someone who has been overweight for most of his adult life, I too could wind up paying that 20 percent premium assessment. Nevertheless, the reality is that affordable employer medical insurance is an asset that is quickly slipping off the employer benefit landscape. Many businesses have eliminated this benefit or have greatly increased their employees’ out-of-pocket expenses.

The time is right for employees and companies to work together. Employees striving to become healthier will help mitigate the rising cost of employer-based insurance plans, which should enable employers to continue offering medical insurance plans with lower premiums and deductibles so that the employees do not experience debilitating out-of-pocket expenses from a catastrophic medical event.

Who knows how long it will take for Congress to agree on a long-term health care solution? By the time that happens, BBT staff and perhaps other Brethren Medical Plan members should be healthier, happier, and have comparatively lower insurance premiums.

-- Nevin Dulabaum is president of Brethren Benefit Trust.

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