Wellness Professional Spotlight

HealthyWage Interviews Bob Nelson, Wellness Manager from WakeMed

WakeMedWakeMed is a health system based in Raleigh, NC with roughly 8,000 employees spread across 12 locations throughout North Carolina. Bob Nelson joined WakeMed in 2010 as their wellness manager to help them develop a culture of wellness within the organization and control healthcare costs. Bob previously worked for the State of North Carolina, Square D Company and Methodist Hospital of Memphis.

In the last year Bob implemented a new financial incentive program called the WakeWell Premium Credit Program to reward employees financially for making healthy lifestyle choices. HealthyWage spoke to Bob for a few minutes to better understand how WakeMed is using financial incentives as part of their wellness program.

HW: Could you briefly describe your incentive program?

BN: In the last year, we implemented a Premium Credit Program. As part of this program, we perform annual biometric screenings that measure BMI, visceral fat, lipids, glucose, and a few other metrics.  We send this data to our Blue Cross vendor and they upload the values into the individual online health risk assessments.  If the employee completes the biometric screening and online health assessment, they will receive a $500 credit towards their health care premiums.

HW: Why did you decide to use a cash incentive as part of this program?

BN: We believe that linking a cash incentive that directly impacts health insurance premium rates is the best way to encourage employees to make positive lifestyle changes.

HW: How did you decide that $500 was the right amount to motivate individuals to participate?

BN: We performed a financial analysis of our health plan and believed that $500 was a substantial amount to incent employees for participation without impacting the plan’s budget.

HW: How do you think of ROI for this $500 investment in employee health?

BN: In January we will be able to see our first six months of claims data for the program. Based on the numbers we have currently looked at, the group receiving the premium credit will represent a lower per employee per month cost than those that did not participate.

HW: What incentives are available to employee’s family members/dependents on the health plan?

BN: This is a new initiative for WakeMed. We are beginning with employees and will progress to dependents in a year or two. We need to make sure this makes sense for us as a business before we progress.

HW: What percentage of your employees takes advantage of the Premium Credit Program?

BN: 54%

HW: Have you looked at employees who do not collect the $500? What characterizes these participants relative to the entire employee population?

BN: We are looking forward to analyzing the claims data of this group. At first glance, it appears this group has a higher rate of tobacco users, higher overall claims and a greater number of risk factors.

HW: What could cause you to change the size of the incentive in the coming years?

BN: The program should always cost justify itself. If the justification is there to increase the size of the incentive then we will certainly look at it.

HW: What other things are you doing as part of your wellness program?

BN: We have environmental programs, in which we try to make the physical workplace more conducive to a healthy lifestyle.  For example – we have a city greenway system just 150 yards away from our facility, but there is no easy way to access it.  We are working with the city to build a path so more of our employees will use it.  We are installing bike racks, making showers available, and developing walking routes inside and outside our facility.

We are also making stairways more visible and inviting to encourage using them instead of the elevators.  We are painting their doors in bright colors, hanging children’s artwork in the stairwells, and providing clearer directions to their entrances.

HW: When focusing on health prevention, any words of advice you can provide companies that struggle with the prevention piece of health management programs? 

BN: There is a true area of savings: typically 20% of the members of your health plan drive 80% of the cost.  15-19% are in borderline groups – they can easily tip either toward the low-cost or high-cost group.  The role of prevention is keeping this group from tipping into that high-cost group.

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