John R. Hall

Smoking contributes to 435,000 premature deaths in the United States and more than $75 billion in annual spending on health care. Ninety million U.S. adults are obese and their conditions lead to direct care health costs of $117 billion annually. Employers like you share these costs, either directly or indirectly. Poor health and poor health habits are killing Americans at an alarming rate and disabling many more. In our haste to get there faster with less physical effort, we have managed to become a nation of fat, lazy people. Too abrupt? Well, no one has ever accused me of being tactful.

Not only are we killing ourselves, but we also are biting the hand that feeds us, albeit unintentionally. Our failure to lead healthier lifestyles has shifted the burden of health care to our employers - and I doubt that many of them are going to take the news sitting down. I would guess that employers would fight back by requiring employees to pay a larger portion of their medical insurance, including higher copays and premiums. Some employers have and/or will opt out of paying for health insurance completely. Where will that leave employers, people like you, when it comes time to recruit new employees and retain the existing ones? If you tell an employee they will have more out-of-pocket medical expenses, he or she may opt for greener pastures.

FIGHT BACK NOW

There are ways you, as employers, can take a bite out of higher health care costs. Start promoting healthy lifestyles among your employees. Give them incentives to quit smoking and lose weight. Sit down with all of your employees and explain the rising health care costs associated with poor health.

Some employers “walk the talk” and offer discounted health club membership plans, smoking cessation classes, weekend spa visits, etc. Sure, there are upfront costs to any program, but the back-end costs of not having these programs can result in higher health insurance premiums and lost time due to health issues. And don’t get me started on lost productivity (can you say “smoke breaks”); this is a topic I could write more on - and I probably will.

What incentive would you give to an employee to quit smoking or lose 20 pounds? Maybe they could earn a day off with pay, or a monetary reward such as $25 for every pound lost and kept off for a year. Treat your employee and a guest to a nice dinner or one-night stay at a hotel for helping to keep your company’s health care costs down. Maybe you could even copay a deductible if they need emergency medical treatment. There are all kinds of ways to dangle a carrot in front of them.

I'M INVOLVED TOO

I’m putting my money where my mouth is, too.

I’ve gained too much weight in the past few years, thanks to my changing physiology, too many extra helpings, snack foods, and a total lack of exercise. I recently had some back problems, including two ruptured discs and one disc that simply disintegrated. Although I can live normally with these conditions, my doctor said I am not helping the situation by being overweight.

The light bulb finally went off in my brain. I waited for a good excuse - a doctor’s recommendation - before taking action on something I should have done years ago. So now I am attempting to do my part to lower the health care costs of my employer and restore pride in myself.

By cutting out fried foods, snacking, extra portions, and walking 3-4 miles each day, I have managed to lose 13 pounds in the past two months. My goal is to lose 50 pounds, most of which has settled around my waist. If I can do that, I will feel much better about myself, and improved mental health goes a long way toward a healthy lifestyle. And I can stop looking for the XXL clothing, which usually costs a couple of bucks more, too.

Some of the NEWS’ consultants gave me feedback on what they are or are not doing to promote good health among their employees. That article will appear in an upcoming issue.

I’d like to know what you are doing to help your employees get control of their health. Visit our Website at www.achrnews.com and click on “Survey Says” in the left-hand column. You’ll find a short survey about health programs.

Please help us all get a grip on rising health care costs while helping others understand the need for healthier lifestyles.

Publication date: 11/12/2007