Assessing health risks to reduce costs

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Tuesday, April 01, 2008

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These days, the health of an employee means a lot. So, as health-care costs rise, more companies are recognizing the value of providing preventive care. In order to understand just what an individual should do now, to avoid everything from asthma and diabetes to heart disease and obesity in the future, many companies are turning to health-risk appraisals.

These questionnaires help take stock of an individual’s general health and wellness or identify the chance of developing specific diseases. The appraisals can include hundreds of questions or just a few, depending on their purpose.

The Oregon Center for Applied Science (ORCAS), a company that receives funding from the National Institutes of Health, has developed more than 100 behavior modification programs, many of which include health-risk appraisals. The programs tackle obesity, depression, alcohol abuse, smoking and stress.

“The goal of our programs is to help employees get the right kind of help,” says Stacey Schultz, ORCAS president and CEO. “We tailor solutions based on the results of their health-risk assessment. For example, if you don’t exercise frequently, we want to deliver a program that starts you out slower than someone who exercises frequently.”

But asking an employee to share details about their health with an employer creates obvious privacy concerns. In most cases, the process is HIPPA compliant, and outside entities handle all of the appraisal’s results and recommendations. As a precaution, both employers and employees should know upfront where the information will go and how it will be used.

As an incentive to take the health-risk appraisals and participate in subsequent programs, many companies offer employees reduced insurance premiums, knowing that in the end, healthy employees mean a better bottom line.

“Ultimately, these programs help make employees more productive,” Schultz says. “And if employees are healthier, there will be fewer health claims and benefit costs go down.”          

LUCY BURNINGHAM



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