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Employers Show President How Better Health Improves Bottom Line

Janice Simmons, for HealthLeaders Media, May 13, 2009

On the heels of meeting with major healthcare providers the day before, President Barack Obama met Tuesday with several employers at the White House to discuss ideas that are being adopted in the workplace to improve employee health and to hold the rising healthcare costs.

"What we've done here today is to gather together some of these stories and best practices to make sure that they are going to be informing the healthcare reform discussions that take place here in Washington," Obama said. "There's no quick fix, there's no silver bullet."

These best practices could provide new structure to federal healthcare reform efforts and to improving Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement strategies, he said. "We're not just doing this in the abstract, but we're actually taking proven measures that have been applied in the private sector and seeing how we can apply those, for example, to federal employees and our employee health care system."

Among the individuals meeting with the president was Johnson & Johnson Chairman and CEO Bill Weldon. The company was cited for its long-running workplace health program and its use of a sophisticated set of disease management and prevention interventions, risk-based incentives, pedometers/exercise goals, treadmills for offices, and other health-related programs.

According to its recent employee health scorecard for American employees, Johnson & Johnson avoided an estimated $15.9 million in healthcare costs in 2007 by implementing these health initiatives. Also, from the late-1990s to 2006, smoking declined from 12% of its workforce to 4%, high blood pressure dropped from 14% to 6%, and high cholesterol went from 19% to 6%.

Safeway's President and CEO Steven Burd noted how Safeway has created a benefit design to reward employees’ healthy behaviors and improve adherence to recommended treatments for chronic diseases. More than 74% of Safeway’s 30,000 nonunion workers have signed up for its "Healthy Measures" program.

With this program, participants undergo screening tests (including cholesterol, blood pressure, and weight control); employees who score well pay lower health premiums. Safeway has saved millions by making employees accountable for their weight, smoking, cholesterol, and blood pressure, according to the company.

Safeway also offers a free fitness center at its headquarters, gym membership discounts, and a 24-hour nurse health hotline. In 2006, Safeway’s efforts reduced total healthcare spending by 13%, and employees who signed up have saved more than 20% on their premiums.

In addition, Microsoft creates personalized health goals and has a staff of physicians that make house calls to avoid an emergency room visit, according to Cecily Hall, director of US Benefits for Microsoft.

Microsoft's obesity program also assigns employees to a primary care physician, behavior health specialist, and nutritionist, and Microsoft provides free meals consistent with diet recommendations to eat onsite or at home. The result of its initiatives has been very low premium growth and a healthier workforce than other companies with workers of similar ages, according to the company.


Janice Simmons is a senior editor and Washington, DC, correspondent for HealthLeaders Media Online. She can be reached at jsimmons@healthleadersmedia.com.

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