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Get Healthy Now: Take Charge U of L

March 18th, 2005

Read the headlines. Look at the studies. Americans are becoming less healthy, largely by their own choice.

In fact, their choices are killing them.

“Modifiable behavioral risk factors (tobacco use, poor diet and physical inactivity) are leading causes of mortality in the United States,” according to an article in the March 10, 2004, issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

While America’s health conditions worsen, health-care costs are increasing and insurance premiums are becoming a burden on employees and employers.

That’s why the University of Louisville is going to the source and asking employees to Get Healthy Now: Take Charge U of L. Not only that, but the university is providing the resources to help them do it.

Get Healthy Now: Take Charge U of L

Get Healthy Now: Take Charge U of L is a free program to help employees identify and manage potential health risks. Employees who choose to participate in the program, which is tied to the university’s health benefit, can save money — $20 on their monthly health insurance premiums.

The program also is the latest in a series of efforts to control the cost of health insurance to employees and the university. Since 2002, U of L has become self-insured, separated the pharmacy benefit from the health benefit and reduced the number of plan administrators from three to one.

“The premise behind self insurance is that an employer pays only for actual claims and administrative costs,” said Julien Carter, associate vice president for human resources. “When an employer buys insurance from a company, it pays for predicted claims based on actuarial tables. The predicted number can be far greater than the actual number.

“With this and the other measures we’ve taken, we’ve been able to keep health insurance premium increases for employees lower than they would have been,” Carter said, “but we haven’t been able to keep rates from going up.”

Get Healthy Now started with the health insurance open enrollment period last November. Faculty and staff who wanted to participate in the program for 2005 took an online health risk assessment administered by Gordian Health Solutions in Nashville. Gordian, which oversees health management programs for businesses across the country, also provides health coaches to employees.

With Get Healthy Now, the university joins a growing number of companies offering health management programs to employees.

“Most large employers in the United States offer some form of health promotion or wellness program,” said Juliann Ashley, a client services manager with Gordian.

“The goals of Get Healthy Now are to improve the health status of those faculty and staff who have health risks and to maintain the health status of those who don’t,” Carter said. “By doing this, along with other strategies, we hope over time to achieve a win-win scenario … lower health cost trends and improved health of our workforce.”

More than 2,800 U of L faculty and staff elected to take the health risk assessment in November. In January, those with even a slight health risk received letters from Gordian asking them to contact a Gordian health coach and set goals.

“Employees Gordian identifies as having health risks must work with a health coach and participate in a Gordian health education program to continue to receive the $20 discount on health insurance premiums," Carter said. "Working with Gordian is the only mandatory component of Get Healthy Now.” Health coaches, however, do not contact employees whose assessments indicated no health risks, and these employees do not have to work with Gordian to receive the discount.

All contact between Gordian and U of L employees is via telephone or mail. Gordian has programs to help employees manage their risks of heart disease, gastroesophageal reflux disease, asthma and diabetes and to manage their cholesterol and stress levels. It also has programs for weight management, smoking cessation and increasing physical activity.

Depending on the risks identified, employees’ goals could be as basic as increasing the amount of time they engage in physical activity or adding more fruits and vegetables to their diets.

“The university doesn’t intend for Gordian or any other component of the Get Healthy Now program to replace an employee’s physician,” Carter said. “Get Healthy Now is a resource for employees to get information and encouragement. We will not punish people who cannot meet their goals. We only want them to work with the coaches so they have the information and encouragement they need to make healthier lifestyle choices.”

Some of the information Gordian refers employees to includes that on its Web site. Gordian also reminds employees about health resources on U of L campuses — such as the walking track at Cardinal Park; exercise facilities at the Student Activities Center, the Health Sciences Center and Humana Gym; and the Campus Health Initiative.

Campus Health Initiative

The Campus Health Initiative (CHI) is an optional component of Get Healthy Now separate from Gordian.

When U of L began planning the Get Healthy Now program, administration asked professor Bryant Stamford, health and sport sciences, to develop a program so employees could benefit from the department’s expertise in nutrition and fitness. The department educates many of the fitness professionals in the Louisville area.

So far, CHI is offering several sessions of a weight management/healthy eating class and heart disease risk reduction class. All filled up quickly, Stamford said, and with waiting lists for new classes. Future classes will include stress management, smoking cessation and healthier smoking.

CHI also is providing health profile evaluations that consist of total cholesterol and HDL-cholesterol, triglycerides, blood glucose, percentage of body fat and waist-to-hip ratio, flexibility and exercise readiness. While the information by itself is valuable to employees who want a picture of their overall health, it also provides a place for CHI to start working with those who want to be in a CHI individualized exercise program using treadmills and weights.

“Our Campus Health Initiative programs are all about long-term change,” Stamford said. “We encourage people to make changes they can live with the rest of their lives, whether those changes are in their food choices or physical activity levels. We tell participants we want them to take small steps toward long-term goals.”

Get Healthy Now participants may have wanted to do something about their weight or physical activity level, but just didn’t know how or where to go for help. Maybe they couldn’t afford to take classes or join a health club. Get Healthy Now brings resources to them at the workplace and makes them affordable — CHI and Gordian services are free, Carter said. (The exception is that only one CHI health profile evaluation is free. Subsequent ones have a small cost.)

“Our programs would be quite costly in the ‘real’ world,” Stamford said. “If you went outside this program to seek these services — the classes, the evaluations, the personal trainers — you would spend hundreds of dollars.”

A Motivating Factor

Early employee feedback has been positive.

“I knew I had weight management and exercise issues without Gordian telling me,” said Debby Kalbfleisch, program coordinator for university temporary services and a participant in a CHI weight management/healthy eating class. The program, she said, helped motivate her and gave her the means to do something about those issues.

Kalbfleisch said she was concerned when health insurance costs went up again in 2005 and staff salaries did not rise comparatively.

“Then they did this. It is wonderful,” she said. “Everything is no cost. I was afraid we were losing in the benefits race, but [now] I think we’re ahead.”

“As I have said in many meetings across campus, there are no silver bullets when it comes to cost containment with our health plan,” Carter said. “Rather there are silver BBs — the sum total of which will put a dent in rising health-plan costs. However, this is a nationwide crisis that probably will require some sort of government intervention to give substantial and sustained relief from double-digit increases.”

Mayor’s Healthy Hometown Movement

Although it isn’t a formal part of the Get Healthy Now program, U of L also is partnering with Louisville Mayor Jerry Abramson’s “Mayor’s Healthy Hometown Movement.” Later this year, all U of L employees will have the opportunity to join the movement’s “Take Charge Challenge.” The challenge creates a bit of healthy competition among faculty and staff to increase their activity levels.

Students also are getting in on the mayor’s program. Medical students are tying their annual Health Care Classic 5K run/walk to the Healthy Hometown Movement to help promote physical fitness in the community. The Health Care Classic will be April 2.

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