Health and wellness is quickly becoming a new mantra for businesses, said speakers who gathered last week at the Providence Business News’ Health Care & Wellness Summit to discuss the economics of health and wellness programs in the workplace.
Given the ever-increasing costs of health insurance, more and more Rhode Island businesses are turning to health and wellness initiatives to lower their expenses, increase productivity and attract and retain talent.
The Nov.1 panel discussion at the Marriott Providence Downtown featured Anne Marie Ludovici-Connolly, author of “Winning Health Promotion Strategies,” Dr. Rajiv Kumar, founder and chairman of Shape Up RI, the largest statewide wellness program in Rhode Island, Mark Converse, the regional health and wellness specialist at USI Insurance of New England, and Dr. Paul Kasuba, senior vice president and chief medical officer of Tufts Health Plan.
Ludovici-Connolly, who directed the award-winning wellness program, Get Fit RI, said that wellness programs have been transformed from a feel-good program into a serious economic strategy for businesses. She cited Dee W. Edington, author of “Zero Trends,” about the importance of integrating health into the core business strategy. “Excess costs are related to excess risks,” she explained. She offered an overview of how to develop a strategic approach to implementing wellness campaigns in the workplace, championing the need for senior management to lead the charge. “It’s important to link any health initiative to the top leadership,” she said. Ludovici-Connolly told of how she helped Yahoo, one of her corporate clients, use a “Go Healthy” campaign to increase employee participation, taking advantage of the go-green corporate culture.
Converse discussed in detail his experiences in implementing a health & wellness program at AAA, saying that these programs were “an evolution and not a revolution,” and that they needed to be evaluated as a long-term investment. In 2007, when AAA began to offer a $20 a month discount to employees who filled out a personal health assessment, participation in the wellness program grew to 90 percent, according to Converse. “The first year, it was a personal health assessment, the next year, it’s an annual physical,” he said, stressing the importance of tying the differential of potential increases in health insurance costs to employees’ decisions to participate.