By Mark Hansel
NKyTribune managing editor
The economics of wellness was the topic at the monthly Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce Eggs ‘N Issues discussion at Receptions in Erlanger Tuesday.
Panelists included William Banks, vice president, managed care at St. Elizabeth Healthcare, Cary Seager, director of health and productivity at Assured Partners NL and Dr. Derek van Amerongen, vice president and medical officer, Humana of Ohio.
Topics of discussion included how wellness pays back a company and employees in terms of total health cost, the cost of illness versus staying well, what is being done to incentivize wellness and what challenges exist in today’s health care environment.
Trey Grayson, president and CEO of the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, moderated the discussion.
Dr. van Amerongen oversees the medical management and strategy for Humana of Ohio and has written extensively on managed care and health topics. He said Humana is focused on helping companies develop a culture of wellness.
“I think that word, culture, is tremendously important,” van Amerogen said. “It’s not just, can you get an employee to lose five pounds, or encourage someone to stop smoking. Those are very important things, but I think a larger and longer-term picture is how you develop this environment that really promotes healthy behaviors.”
It is also important, he said, to examine how wellness factors in to retention of a workforce.
“Unless, you are hiring people just for very temporary spot jobs, everyone in this room is investing time and effort in training and development of your associates,” Amerongen said. Many of you have very technical business where you spend a lot of energy bringing those people up to a certain level and you want them to continue in their roles. We thing that wellness and having a sophisticate, holistic wellness program is part of how we do that and that’s what we have tried to develop and bring to the market.”
At AssuredPartners, the six-largest privately held insurance brokerage in the country, Seager consults with middle- and large-market clients to create strategic health and wellness plans. She said the key to achieving a high rate of participation in a workplace wellness program is getting people to buy in.
“Wellness in the workplace is not new, it’s been around for several decades,” Seager said. “What is changing is that we are engaging associates across all levels. We spend the majority of our waking hours in the office so it makes sense to have an atmosphere that is promoting the well-being of that person.”
“Not only from their policies and the food that they are bringing in – one of the unpopular recommendations that I make to all of my clients is to get rid of all of your vending machines,” Seager said. “The first couple of years of a wellness program, you want to focus on wellness and education. After that, that’s where things are changing, we are starting to motivate our associates to actually make changes.”
It does little good if employees come for screenings every year, she says, if problems such as high blood pressure or high glucose persist, because they are not making the necessary lifestyle changes.
In his role at St. Elizabeth Healthcare, Banks is primarily responsible for price-setting, care relationships and negotiation of all contracts for facility professional and ancillary services. He said St. Elizabeth’s business health organization grew up as a response to the needs of the 2,500 employers it serves.
“We’ll put nurses on your site for second and third shift, like we do for DHL, to make sure that their minor injuries are treated and put back to work, instead of making a trip to the emergency room,” Banks said. “For us, that would actually be more profitable…but it takes that worker off the line, at least for a day, so employers are finding it a good thing to have some of our nurses onsite. We’ll do onsite clinics, where we actually have physicians’ medical assistants are running pretty much a whole-work-hours clinic – Mubea has that going on and some others are considering it.”
The mission of St. Elizabeth Healthcare, Banks said, is to make Northern Kentucky healthier, which will help control costs to employers and patients.
“Our Medicare population is growing at 5 percent per year and we don’t have enough cardiologists, we don’t have enough surgeons,” Banks said. “If we can do something to make people healthier, then we can higher less cardiologists in the future, build one less cardiac cath lab, et cetera.”
The monthly Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce Eggs ‘N Issues meeting brings community leaders together to discuss issues of regional importance. The March 21, session will include a presentation from Jeff Berding of FC Cincinnati, who will discuss the success of the team, as it prepares for the upcoming season.
For more information on all Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce events and activities, click here
Contact Mark Hansel at email@example.com