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How to Save on Employee Health Care While Helping Your People be Healthy

Whether a small employer offers health care insurance, research out of the Mayo Clinic shows that offering your employees discounted memberships in wellness centers can cut both your and your employees health care costs with an added benefit of weight loss.


According to a new Mayo Clinic study, starting a employee well center or partnering with a health club is an effective and relatively low cost way to help control the costs of health care by encouraging a healthy lifestyle among your workforce.

Boost Employee
Health and Wellness:
Getting to the Heart of the Matter
by Carol A. Vance, Ph.D.

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more information
Significant weight loss and health care savings
Research published this month in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine shows that members of Mayo Clinic's employee wellness center, the Dan Abraham Healthy Living Center (DAHLC), who regularly participated in wellness activities, experienced significant weight loss and health care costs savings.

"A well-planned comprehensive wellness center can engage and retain members which can ultimately lead to important savings in health care costs and reductions in body mass index (BMI)," says lead researcher Bijan Borah, Ph.D., of the Mayo Clinic Robert D. and Patricia E. Kern Center for the Science of Health Care Delivery.

About the study
For the study, the researchers used data from 3,199 members who were continuously enrolled in the DAHLC for three years.  Their attendance was categorized: 1 to 60 visits, 61 to180 visits, 181 to 360 visits and greater than 360 visits.

Weight loss was defined as moving to a lower Body Mass Index (BMI) category based on their BMI at the beginning of the study:
  • normal (BMI <25),
  • overweight (BMI ?25 to <30),
  • obese (BMI 30 to <35), and
  • obesity grade II or higher (BMI 35).
The baseline patient information was collected in the first year and study outcomes were assessed during the three-year follow-up period. Researchers pulled data from multiple institutional sources: the wellness center attendance database, electronic health records and a health care claims database.
Important results from the study include:
 
Compared to members who visited the Mayo Clinic wellness center 1 to 60 times in the three-year period,
  • members with 181-360 visits were 46 percent more likely to have weight loss, while
  • individuals with more than 360 visits were 72 percent more likely to have weight loss.
"The significant association between health care costs and the frequency of wellness center visits, implying an average cost difference of $4,974 between the top and bottom quartiles of the DAHLC users, is too strong to ignore," says Dr. Borah. "While the use of DAHLC is unlikely the only mediator of either weight control or health care costs, workplaces that are able to offer comprehensive wellness facilities may be capable of achieving similar gains irrespective of individuals' activity pursuits at the facility."

Partnering and incentives offer a benefit to small business
In response to a query from this blog, Dr. Borah replied, “Since small businesses may not be able to afford a captive wellness center, they may consider partnering with local health clubs or YMCAs to provide access to both individual and group fitness activities. Often times, such formal partnering may result in discounted membership fees.

In addition, small businesses may also consider incenting their employees and dependents (say, 20% reduction in monthly membership fees) if they visit the wellness center X number of times each month. Such investments on employee wellness are very likely to result in lower healthcare utilization by employees and dependents, resulting in lower healthcare costs.”

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