What's Working

Target Health
Chamber Offers Insurance Plan Tied to Wellness

   What's Working: Target Health

By Rebecca Jones
Photograph by John Johnston

Eighty percent of Glacier Construction Co.'s 100-member workforce is composed of healthy, active young men who work outside all day. Health problems are minor. And for years, the company avoided serving sweets at company meetings and encouraged its workers to stay fit by reimbursing them for joining health clubs.

Yet for all of that, Glacier's health insurance premiums have increased 8 percent to 12 percent a year for the past five years.

"We had to make changes because we couldn't continue to carry the burden of the increases," says Amy Buechel, controller for the 13-year-old Greenwood Village company, which specializes in building water and wastewater treatment plants. "We did shift some of the costs back on employees, but we tried to limit that. We didn't want to put it all on employees because we want to maintain our good people and offer a good benefit package."

In January, Glacier became one of the first companies to sign up for Chamber Health Plus, a new kind of health insurance plan that the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce has made available for mid-size member businesses. In exchange for getting employees to participate in a variety of health management activities and for meeting certain health targets, the company will get discounted premiums for its workforce.

"As more folks join the program and everyone is participating in healthy activities, the costs go down," says Kate Horle, spokeswoman for the chamber. "This is a chance for folks to put a lid on this boiling pot of health care costs."

A key component of the Chamber Health Plus program is Health Academy, a health management service that provides employers with a range of tools for implementing a companywide wellness program. To get the discounts, at least 75 percent of a company's employees must attend an annual company-sponsored "health day" and 80 percent of enrolled employees have to complete a health risk assessment. The company must adopt a variety of "healthy workplace" policies, which typically include offering smoking cessation classes, making healthy snacks available and sponsoring fitness competitions.

At Glacier, its offices and construction sites will become smoke-free. The company will continue to underwrite employees' gym memberships. It also plans to hand out pedometers and hold a walking challenge, Buechel says.

Horle says there's nothing else like this plan, offered through the insurance carrier Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Colorado. The one similar program in the nation, in Ohio, has close to 800 businesses after a decade's operation, she says.

"A lot of programs are designed to help employees be healthier, but there's no financial benefit to the corporation beyond the fact that healthy employees are on the job more and regular exercise sharpens the mind," Horle says. "But in this day of double-digit increases in health care premiums, this idea that you can actually decrease health care costs by having a healthier workforce is a novel concept."

Buechel says she's prepared for some negative pushback from employees as the company prepares for its first health day in July.

"But I'm hoping our guys will understand the concept and will want to partner with us to make this successful," she says. "They're pretty healthy anyway, and this will give them extra motivation to take it a step beyond where they were."