That's always been good advice for investigative journalists, but it's also turning into good guidance for human resource executives, employee benefits managers and risk managers as they look for new ways to integrate their cost-containment tools. In the late 1990s, high workers' compensation costs drove this trio of corporate leaders to look toward integrated disability management--combining workers' comp loss control, disability claims management and human resources policy-making to address employee absence and productivity problems in a holistic way.
Now, the same teams are using steadily rising health-care costs as a reason to integrate other tools to reduce--or at least stabilize--the medical costs related to various aspects of their operations.
Health-care costs are "the 900-pound gorilla" of corporate financial management, says Mike Simonds, vice president of marketing and product development at UnumProvident in Portland, Maine.
"Large employers are investing aggressively in health and wellness programs, disease management, Employee Assistance Programs and any other program they can identify to help reduce those costs," he says.
But these employers are also just beginning to realize the critical connections between these programs and disability costs and productivity problems. Simonds says UnumProvident research indicates that as much as 65 percent of corporate health-care costs are generated by employees on short- or long-term disability.
These employees are key targets for wellness and disease management programs, yet about 80 percent of disability claimants say they were unaware of disease management and other health-support programs.
About a year and a half ago, UMB Financial Group, a banking company in Kansas City, Mo., initiated an integrated effort to control its health-care costs. The employer chose VMC Behavioral Health in Gurnee, Ill., primarily an EAP vendor, to coordinate communication between its wellness program provider and a disease management program for the company's 3,500 employees.
The program has posted positive results so far, says Dale Long, UMB Financial vice president of employee benefits. In the first year of operation, health-care costs rose only 3.5 percent, about one-third as fast as the national average.
The program began with a health risk assessment used to identify health risks in the employee population that are linked to lifestyle choices such as diet and smoking, and chronic diseases such as diabetes, asthma and heart disease. On-site health screening followed to generate data on blood glucose, cholesterol levels and blood pressure.
Employees who participated received a $100 cash incentive and, as a result, 92 percent of the eligible work force participated.
Sean Fogarty, VMC Behavioral Health vice president of sales and marketing, says the EAP component is critical. "EAP counselors are in a position to notice many of the first indications of the issues that will eventually turn into acute health-care problems, productivity and behavior concerns, and disability," he explains. "When an employee turns to the EAP for help for depression, for example, he might reveal weight gain, a smoking or drinking increase, or sleep problems that influence health."
Privacy remains a concern, but Fogarty says the participating programs are convinced they can continue to share employee information effectively without violating HIPAA and other regulations.
a professor and benefits expert, is the benefits columnist for
Risk & Insurance®.
April 1, 2006
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