Real World Health Care Blog

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Patient Advocacy Group Shares Solutions to Fuel Greater Participation in Workplace Wellness Programs

Workplace wellness is not a new concept, but it is definitely one that is recently gaining more importance.

With non-communicable diseases on the rise, many people are becoming more concerned about what lifestyle choices can be made to avoid them and stay healthy. Furthermore, businesses recognize the cost of stressed, out of shape, non-productive employees: increased health insurance costs,absenteeism, retention problems, and loss in productivity. Trying to take a more active role in the health of their employees, employers are creating and implementing wellness programs that encourage healthy behavior. Through incentives and rewards, companies are encouraging their employees to make healthy lifestyle choices like eating well and exercising regularly.

Melissa Kostinas

Melissa Kostinas

Despite the benefits of these programs, their success and sustainability can only be achieved through employee participation – which has been a challenging feat for many employers.  Without high participation, programs will result in limited return on investments for employers and might discourage them from implementing other programs in the future.  Because of this risk and the tug of war between cost and benefits, some companies find it too difficult and futile to implement workplace wellness programs.

Fortunately, there are solutions that help employers increase participation. First and foremost, companies should be focusing on the employees themselves – their needs, schedules, and interests – and design programs tailored to these considerations.

Employers should ask their employees: What gets you healthy? What motivates you to do what everyone knows is healthy behavior? We all have reasons for not doing what we know we should – time, access, knowledge, and cost. All these factors contribute to our denial.

Employees are busy, so the more a company can incorporate healthy eating and activity into existing schedules the more likely they are to embrace them. Easy access to workplace wellness programs makes a big difference. Onsite, or nearby programs offered during breaks or outside work hours also are great ways to tackle the time and access excuses.

Information and knowledge, while seemingly obvious, helps to motivate employees too. Of course we know we should exercise, but do your employees know that physical activity helps to prevent back pain?  It increases muscle strength and endurance, and improves flexibility and posture. With this knowledge, maybe the next time they get that twinge in their lower back they might think about exercise instead of painkillers. Providing reduced or no-cost programs will also boost participation rates. Coupled with incentives, like bonuses or rewards (e.g. allowing employees to trade in some of their unused sick days at the end of a year for an extra vacation day), rates of participation are likely to increase.

There are also management steps that can be taken to increase and maintain participation.

Unless employers are committed to employee wellness, the workplace wellness program becomes another ineffective plan that sounded good on paper but never achieved the anticipated results. The executives at Valley Health System understood the importance of managerial commitment. When they created Valley Health Workplace Connection the program managers worked closely with the health system’s managers to make sure all higher-level staff understood the importance of their involvement. Today, Valley Health Workplace Connection is a very successful workplace wellness program with high participation and employee satisfaction.

To ensure such success, workers from all levels should be actively engaged in programs. Planning should include processes to maintain communication with staff and the creation of program committees to guide intervention, observe participation, and adjust programs accordingly.

Additionally, program designers should consider all the major health risks in their targeted population as well as their business’ needs. Different programs should be offered at different levels, depending on characteristics of the recipients. The key is integrating health into the business. Policies governing the workplace wellness program should align with the organization’s mission, vision and values. They must affirm and communicate the value of good health and show commitment to engage workers in health enhancement. Again, a program is only effective if it reaches the intended audience and motivates them.

Pfizer recognized this and found that using programs like Keas got their employees more involved because it was engaging but less invasive. By making wellness a challenge and incorporating games and goals into the plan, Pfizer overcame the primary challenge in any wellness program — participation.

The bottom line is that wellness programs are gaining steam, but there are challenges. Having the support of management and creating a program that meets your employees’ needs will allow your program to overcome those challenges.  Be creative and remember: Wellness can be fun.

Implementation of Health Care Law Expanding Coverage to More Young Adults

LJB head shot 03

Linda Barlow

For the first time in nearly a decade, the number of 19-25 year-olds gaining access to health insurance is on the rise, according to the Commonwealth Fund 2012 Biennial Health Insurance Survey. Researchers point to a provision in the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA or ACA), which allows young adults to stay on their parents’ health insurance until age 26, as a likely cause of this groundbreaking trend.

“The early provisions of the Affordable Care Act are helping young adults gain coverage and improving the affordability of health care during difficult economic times for American families,” said Sara Collins, Ph.D., a Commonwealth Fund vice president and lead author of the Biennial Survey’s report, Insuring the Future: Current Trends in Health Coverage and the Effects of Implementing the Affordable Care Act.

The improvements in young adult health coverage are significant, according to the Biennial Survey:

  • Nearly eight in 10 (79 percent) of Americans ages 19-25 reported that they were insured at the time of the survey in 2012, up from 69 percent in 2010, or a gain in health insurance coverage for an estimated 3.4 million young adults.
  • The share of young adults in this same age group who were uninsured for any time during the year prior to the survey fell from 48 percent in 2010 to 41 percent in 2012 – an estimated decline of 1.9 million, from 13.6 million uninsured young adults in 2010 to 11.7 million in 2012.

Of the estimated 3.1 million young adults who are now covered through the ACA, 60 percent are leveraging it for mental health, substance abuse, or pregnancy treatment, according to a study from the Employee Benefits Research Institute (EBRI). For one large, national employer profiled in the study, the newly-covered young adults used about $2 million in health care services in 2011 – about 0.2 percent of the employer’s total health spending.

Access is a major barrier to care for young adults, who were previously terminated from their parents’ plans when they turned 19. According to the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF), young adults typically face difficulties obtaining their own coverage because they work in entry-level, low-wage or temporary jobs that are less likely to provide health insurance. Lack of insurance makes it harder for young adults to receive adequate medical care –  a problem that plagued one in five young adults before the ACA began to take effect.

“Young adult women have additional health needs and are particularly vulnerable when they are uninsured, as they are at an age when they require reproductive health services,” noted Karyn Schwartz and Tanya Schwartz, authors of KFF’s Issue Paper, How Will Health Reform Impact Young Adults? “Having health insurance and consistent access to the medical system may increase the likelihood that they receive timely pre-natal care if they become pregnant.”

Meanwhile, some skeptics are expressing concerns about key aspects and implications of the Act, from objecting to young single males being required to purchase a plan including maternity benefits and well-baby coverage – to others saying that full implementation of the ACA in 2014 will mean much higher premiums for young adults. Many have challenged these assertions, however, noting that the ACA’s age-based pricing requirements are largely in line with premiums individuals are paying now.

Although the news for young adults is mostly good, the survey also found that 84 million people – nearly half of all working age U.S. adults – went without health insurance in 2012, or faced out-of-pocket costs that were so high relative to their income that they were considered “underinsured.”

The survey did indicate that 87 percent of the 55 million uninsured Americans in 2012 are eligible for subsidized health insurance through the insurance marketplaces or expanded Medicaid under the ACA. Up to 85 percent of the 30 million uninsured adults also might be eligible for either Medicaid or subsidized health insurance plans with reduced out-of-pocket costs.

Click here to learn more about pricing options for young adults seeking health insurance coverage.

Now it’s your turn. Does rollout of the ACA mean more accessible and affordable health insurance coverage, or will it drive up costs, particularly for younger Americans? Get the conversation started.

Categories: Access to Care

Making Life Easier for Patients and Loved Ones: Meet MyHealthTeams

Talk to anyone impacted by a chronic condition – autism, multiple sclerosis, breast cancer – whatever disease or condition, they will all tell you it’s not easy. It’s not easy finding the support that best suits them. It’s not easy finding providers. It’s not easy period. At MyHealthTeams we create social networks for chronic condition communities. We believe that when you or a loved one are diagnosed with a disease, it should be easy to connect with people just like you, who can share their daily experiences, and help you discover the best people around to help you.

Since we founded MyHealthTeams in 2010, we’ve launched three social networks – MyAutismTeam, for parents of children with autism; MyBCTeam, for women facing breast cancer; and MyMSTeam, for those living with multiple sclerosis.

Each of the social networks we’ve built has been fully embraced by the communities we’ve addressed. Our flagship community, MyAutismTeam, has in less then 24 months, grown from 30 parents to more than 40,000 parents across the US.

Emily Ybarra, mother of a 4-year old boy with autism, was having difficulty finding a dentist capable of handling her child’s sensory processing disorder – a common challenge associated with autism.  After joining MyAutismTeam she connected with other parents near her in Orem, Utah and asked if anyone could recommend a dentist capable of “working with a special-needs child who recoils from human contact.”

Within a few days she had a referral to the autism-friendly dentist she still uses today.  More important, she had established friendships with many other parents of children on the autism spectrum.  Parents nearby reached out to her, but so did parents from all across the country who could empathize with the challenges of having a child with sensory processing disorder.   She wasn’t alone and she didn’t need to reinvent the wheel.

MyBCTeam already has roughly 4,000 women on the site since our launch in September 2012 and the majority of those women are actively engaged on the site or the MyBCTeam mobile apps every month.

This past week we launched MyMSTeam and as of this writing we are already closing in on 500 registered members.

Users of all three of these social networks share recommendations of local providers, openly discuss daily triumphs and issues, share tips and advice, and gain access to local services.  Thousands of posts, comments and updates are shared every day across these three sites and that number climbs each week as the networks expand.

Three major drivers behind the growth of our sites:

  1. People crave connection with other people just like them – they just need a safe and reliable environment to do so.
  2. The simplicity of our technology – our communities reflect aspects of social networks that our users are already familiar with (i.e. Facebook, Twitter, etc.) which provides for high user engagement.
  3. The rapid word-of-mouth among these communities.

One in two Americans live with a chronic condition[i] and they are seeking support from not only their medical providers, but also from people like them. In fact, for women with breast cancer, recent studies show that having strong social support improves outcomes[ii]. Sharing with people who are in your shoes offers a sense of community that can’t be found elsewhere – these are people who know the language of your condition; they understand the daily frustrations and the small triumphs that can mean so much.

With The Affordable Care Act on the horizon, implementing and expanding wellness programs has taken on a new importance for companies.  Organizations are seeking resources that not only help improve the quality of life for their employees, but also help control health care spending. Social networks, like the ones created by MyHealthTeams, allow employers to offer unique resources to their employees allowing them to create the support networks they need to get through to the next day.

For more information on the social networks created by MyHealthTeams, visit http://www.myhealthteams.com.


[i]An Unhealthy America: The Economic Burden of Chronic Disease, Charting a New Course to Save Lives and Increase Productivity and Economic Growth, Milken Institute, By Ross DeVol and Armen Dedroussian, Oct 2007 (free download http://www.milkeninstitute.org/publications/publications.taf?function=detail&ID=38801018&cat=resrep)

[ii] Journal of Clinical Oncology, Social Networks, Social Support, and Survival After Breast Cancer Diagnosis, Candyce H. Kroenke, et al., March 1, 2006

Categories: Access to Care