Public Attitude Shifts in Favor of Employer Incentives to Change Employee Health Behavior

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Looking for someone to help make the change? Five things you need to know.

Most chronic illnesses are tied to lifestyle-driven choices such as poor diet, lack of exercise or smoking. When offered a choice of lower health care premiums, along with the programs and health coaching to help them succeed in living a healthier life, employees have all the right reasons to make changes.

A new study shows that public sentiment is shifting towards acceptance of higher health insurance rates for people with unhealthy lifestyles, giving human resources executives new ammunition to introduce employee health plan designs with incentives to pursue healthier habits.

Right now, large employers and their health care consulting firms are refining a benefit design strategy for 2007 and sourcing vendors to fulfill their requirements. A relatively new angle that is gaining ground is providing financial incentives, such as lower premiums or co-payments, for employees who choose healthy behaviors like smoking cessation, exercise and weight control.

Wall Street Journal/Harris Poll results released yesterday indicate consumer support for such programs is growing. More than half of those surveyed (53 percent) said they think it’s fair to ask people with unhealthy lifestyles to pay higher insurance premiums than people with healthy lifestyles, while 32 percent said it would be unfair. When asked the same question in 2003, 37 percent said it would be fair, while 45 percent said it would be unfair.

“As health care costs continue to rise, more consumers can see the logic of giving employees who make healthier lifestyle choices a break,” said John Shull, chief executive of Gordian Health Solutions. “Most chronic illnesses are tied to lifestyle-driven choices such as poor diet, lack of exercise or smoking. When offered a choice of lower health care premiums, along with the programs and health coaching to help them succeed in living a healthier life, employees have all the right reasons to make changes.”

Gordian, headquartered in Nashville, Tenn., is a leading national provider of population health management services for companies across the country. Gordian is unique in offering its clients incentive management and an integrated approach to lifestyle and chronic condition health coaching services. The idea is designed to help employers maintain a healthy and productive workforce and manage rising health care costs.

For companies mapping out requirements for incentives and developing RFIs for 2007, Shull offered several questions an employer should ask about using incentives when choosing a health management partner:

1.    Baseline Matters. Does the vendor have the ability to get a baseline measurement that will be used to determine the current health management needs of all company employees before a health, lifestyle and disease management program is designed, and are they flexible enough to offer programs to those at low, medium and high risk?

2.    Integration Counts. Can the same vendor give you “one-stop shopping,” offering both a health improvement program and an incentive program designed to give participating employees discounts on their health premiums or co-pays?

3.    IT Enables Efficient Incentive Management. When managing the incentive program, does the vendor have an IT platform that interfaces with your payroll system and that provides periodic management reports?

4.    Communicate and Respond to Employees. When you decide to launch the program, can the vendor offer you a company-branded communications program to educate employees about how the program works and what the program benefits are?

5.    Match Incentives With Health Behaviors. Does the vendor know how to design an incentive management and health management program that dovetails into the company’s unique corporate culture?

Shull said businesses can also create a more positive climate if employees are presented with financial incentives (or discounts) to be healthier rather than higher premiums or co-pays for unhealthy lifestyle choices. A more positive climate often means greater participation in healthy lifestyle programs, and lower overall health care costs for the employer.

About Gordian Health Solutions, Inc.

Gordian is a national population health management company based in Nashville, Tennessee. The company offers lifestyle and disease management programs and a comprehensive suite of products and services such as population health risk analysis, telephonic counseling, online products, health education hotlines, and on-site health education/fitness center management. Gordian works with employers, health plans and government entities to identify, control and manage health risk factors and their associated costs. Through targeted and tailored programs, and sophisticated tracking, monitoring and reporting capabilities, Gordian works with clients to measure program progress and cost savings. For more information about Gordian Heath Solutions, visit http://www.gordian-health.com.

This press release was distributed through eMediawire by Human Resources Marketer (HR Marketer: http://www.HRmarketer.com) on behalf of the company listed above.

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Karla Hurter
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