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Health incentive plans may have a future in state

Becky Vaughn-Furlow

Becky Vaughn-Furlow

Robyn Gollott

Robyn Gollott

There’s a trend across the country for employers and employees to put more emphasis on wellness as a way of preventing illness and thus curb rising health care costs. Some employers are offering wellness programs and incentives to motivate employees to adopt healthy behaviors. Incentives may include lower insurance premiums, store discounts and gift cards.

In Mississippi, which leads the nation in obesity rates and several health problems, the incentives trend does not seem to be widespread. Two of the state’s largest hospitals and others contacted by the Mississippi Business Journal have no such program for employees. “We’re not seeing much of that (incentives) although a lot of companies have wellness programs,” said Clinton Graham, executive director of the Mississippi Association of Independent Insurance Agents.

A spokeswoman for Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Mississippi said the insurance company’s Healthy Workplace program works with a number of businesses to support them in making wellness part of daily work life for their employees and has some success stories posted on their website.

“Incentives come in many forms, and most businesses we work with offer them,” Meredith Virden Bailess, manager of corporate communications, said. “Time at work to participate in wellness activities, such as exercising or attending a cooking demonstration, can be an excellent incentive on its own. Many groups do offer tangible incentives, but the ultimate benefit/incentive really is the gift of good health.”

For their own employees, Blue Cross & Blue Shield rewards wellness at every level with wellness integrated into all they do.

“By participating in our Health & Wellness Benefit Plan, the company pays for the employee premium. This benefit plan option provides employees the opportunity to develop personal health goals,” Bailess said. “We help them accomplish these goals through individual wellness coaching supported by a team of fitness instructors, clinical dieticians and a clinical nurse.”

Trustmark Bank offers its associates a wellness credit toward their health insurance premium by completing a health risk assessment and wellness exam at a physician’s office or at the onsite CareHere medical clinic. “Associates who participate in any of the wellness challenges that are offered throughout the year have the opportunity to win gift cards, sports gear and other tangible items,” said Becky Vaughn-Furlow, executive vice president for human resources. “A large percentage of Trustmark associates have taken advantage of these programs, and it is apparent the incentives have definitely encouraged a major portion of associates to participate.”

In May 2010, Trustmark implemented the Healthy Workplace initiative, including a work site tour to identify opportunities to make the workplace healthier and risk assessments to evaluate individual health as well as lifestyle coaching from dietitians and fitness professionals.

“Additional programs include training for managers to help educate associates on the workplace wellness program and an annual health fair offers associates health screenings and fitness evaluations,” Vaughn-Furlow said.

“The Healthy Workplace initiative also provides results for data analysis and reporting tools to measure the number of associates utilizing health and wellness benefits as well as support from a dedicated team of health and wellness professionals to offer associates diet, nutrition and lifestyle programs.”

Reduced insurance premiums and lower co-pays are offered as incentives to employees of Singing River Health System, according to Robyn Gollott. R.N., program specialist for wellness. “One large incentive for our employees and their families who participate in our health benefit plan is if they are tobacco free and complete an annual wellness visit and health risk assessment, they are eligible for this incentive,” she said. “This incentive is helpful and financially healthy for everyone’s pocketbooks these days. We have a 95 percent success rate for participation in this incentive program.”

To encourage healthy behaviors among their employees, Singing River Health System — which operates hospitals in Pascagoula and Ocean Springs — offers a number of wellness programs. These opportunities include tobacco treatment; exercise and physical activity; meal planning, weight management and nutrition counseling; Weight Watchers at Work; bariatrics; and annual wellness visits.

In December 2013, Trustmark partnered with CareHere, an onsite medical clinic and wellness facility that provides convenient health care services to its associates located mainly in the Jackson Metro area. “The incentive plan design for the clinic is no out-of-pocket cost for their co-payment for exams, lab work and any medications distributed from the dispensary, free health coaching, a dietitian and 24/7 nurse by phone for emergencies,” Vaughn-Furlow said.

At Blue Cross & Blue Shield, another important part of their employee program is the opportunity to attend a variety of group exercise classes on a daily basis.  “We also provide health management programs to help support employees who may need additional expertise,” Bailess said. “These programs include our Color Me Healthy! Program, which focuses on providing support to those with high cholesterol, diabetes, or glucose.

“We also offer a Healthy Lifestyle program, which helps individuals focus on achieving and maintaining a healthy weight, as well as asthma management, Well Mother, and tobacco cessation programs to our employees. An Employee Assistance Program and Nurse Advise Line are also offered to employees at no cost.”

The company provides a healthy working environment with its smoke-free campus; cafeteria that serves healthy, nutritious meals and snack options; indoor and outdoor walking tracks; and indoor fitness facility. Employees have the opportunity to use these facilities to be active throughout the workday.

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