Healthy Living is the Key to Healthcare Savings

Workplace preventative healthcare initiatives are a key part of the healthcare reform solution.

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The results in Virginia mirror the success of Multi Service's initiative. Registrations in Future Moms were up 16 percent in 2008 and the state's most recent infant mortality statistics show improvement. Fully 30 percent of the eligible workforce in Virginia has taken advantage of the state's smoking cessation program—and more than 26 percent of participants remained smoke free after one year. The 8.5 percent of eligible employees who signed up for weight loss programs in 2008 achieved a total weight loss of more than 37,000 pounds.

Some of Virginia's cost savings have stemmed from bringing the traditionally outsourced state wellness program CommonHealth in house, which reduced costs by nearly $4 million. The broader point is that these health-centered initiatives are popular: The number of state employees participating in one or more CommonHealth initiatives doubled in 2008 alone, and the program reaches more than 1 in 4 employees.

Whether organizations are working to maximize their revenue or to stretch the reach of limited taxpayer dollars, notable savings can be achieved by living healthier. A 2005 study by the American Journal of Preventative Medicine suggests that employee wellness programs may be the best way to minimize healthcare costs and improve employee productivity. The study shows every dollar invested in employee health and wellness may result in an additional three to four dollars in savings for the organization. The magnitude of this effect would translate into even larger savings at the national level. At the same time, researchers estimate that if the American population could decrease instances of chronic illness among individuals age 50 and older to European levels, the United States would save between $1,200 and $1,750 per citizen each year—an annual savings of $100 to $150 billion.

As the nation continues to debate healthcare reform, we must remember the end goal is health. By educating individuals and promoting advantages of a healthy lifestyle nationally, our country can reap so many benefits—financial and otherwise. At the same time, by encouraging employers to implement constructive and engaging wellness-related programs—and rewarding them for measurable outcomes—America can achieve the most affordable and effective version of reform possible.

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