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OPINION: ‘Pre-existing’ change another health plus

When executives of BlueCross BlueShield of Mississippi announced it will remove the exclusion for pre-existing conditions for employees who work in companies with 50 or fewer employees, it sent a significant message.

The corporate line is that the change, which is effective June 1, should broaden access to quality healthcare, make available innovative products, increase preventive visits and promote healthy lifestyles through diet, exercise and tobacco cessation.

Further, by encouraging a more participatory personal ownership role, individuals and family members, consulting with health providers would likely catch health issues of potential concern before they actually become risks. Obvious gains would be in better health for the employee, less expensive health care costs for the company.

And, a win-win situation for all concerned.

Though removing the pre-existing exclusion was introduced as state legislation in last year’s session, the bill failed to gain approval. The dominant health and wellness company decided to move forward anyway.

But, while the move may have surprised some, it shouldn’t have.
BlueCross BlueShield does more than just preach good health. It embraces it, providing its 900 Jackson employees a “get the point across” notice by offering cost-saving incentives that lead to healthier, happier and more productive employees.

What started 10 years ago as a medical incentive plan with a cost-savings hook, its Healthy You! program has now become part of the corporate health and wellness culture that includes physician wellness visits, immunizations, age-gender screenings and goal-oriented plans that address symptoms of diabetes, high cholesterol, excessive weight, cardiovascular and smoking issues long before they become serious problems.

Employees, during open enrollment periods, choose between one of two health benefit plans.

One, which pays 100 percent of an employee’s monthly premium and eliminates deductibles, co-pay and co-insurance payments, requires a tobacco-free commitment, establishes a schedule of point-accumulating physical activities and directs involvement in community events like Relay for Life, Habitat for Humanity, blood drives and volunteer work.

The other, which offers minimal financial reimbursement, provides basic, standard coverage.

Though there has been a transitional period, 98 percent of plan participants now opt for the more healthy option. Employees who once grumbled at the thought of exercise classes or huffed and puffed at the suggestion of a brisk or extended walk, now sign up for 5K events, half or full marathons and take part in a host of healthy activities, often with their family.

While still beneficial financially to get involved, money savings have taken a back seat to health awareness and maintenance. Phrases like Be Healthy, Live Healthy and Stay Healthy are now the routine.

The company makes the lifestyle adjustment easy, offering encouragement through brightly colored signs, banners and slogans scattered across the Lakeland Drive campus, ensuring a non-intimidating environment that focuses on individual improvement and development more than competitive comparisons and, most of all, providing a state-of-the-art facility and company time for involvement.

An on-site cafeteria offers fresh salads, tasty turkey burgers and an assortment of health-conscious meals daily. Volleyball games start often on weekdays at 4:45 p.m. A rubberized blue walking-running track that winds between two of the largest buildings on campus provides easy morning, noon and afternoon access to an aesthetically-pleasing three-quarter mile distance.

Treadmills are strategically placed in office buildings, enticing 10-minute energy-enhancing activities. A third-floor indoor fitness center includes a walking path and open space that routinely accommodates classes for kick boxing, yoga and exercise boot camps, often led or taught by corporate managers and aided by trained exercise professionals.

Groups meet regularly in a room just off the Blues Fitness Center for instruction in Pilates, line or Latin dancing. And, a health club-like area full of cardiovascular workout equipment and weight machines draws a crowd from the 6 a.m. starting time until the 7 p.m. closing.

Knowing their numbers at BlueCross BlueShield goes beyond the financial statement. It includes an awareness of height, weight, blood pressure, glucose and cholesterol readings and a plan that monitors each.

It’s a simple, common sense approach to improved health on a personal level that makes a difference. It’s the kind of commitment that goes beyond mere words. It’s the type example that will hopefully expand.

While smaller businesses and companies might have difficulty matching the campus atmosphere of a BlueCross BlueShield, the company’s decision to remove the exclusion of pre-existing conditions is a big one. It’s a change that will impact many Mississippians and it should be an important step in improving the overall health status of our state.

Contact MBJ editor/publisher Ed Darling at ed.darling@msbusiness.com.

About Ed Darling

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