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Assessing for Saving

Health risk assessments create savings for small businesses.

By Jo Steinberg

Some people haven’t been on a scale in years. This basic fact is one of the many reasons health insurance agents are delivering double-digit premium increases to their customers. Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to offer clients something to help them stem the rising tide of claims costs?

Companies should bring in health-care counselors to help the employees improve their scores and then provide bonuses or incentives to those who do.

A golden opportunity
All successful agents know they have a greater chance of retaining a client if they can offer an ever-increasing number of services. At the same time, they must reinforce the all-important “personal relationship” needed between client and advisor. Agents have a golden opportunity through health risk assessments (HRAs) to do both. Through these programs, advisors can get in front of their small-business clients and introduce them to a concept that can potentially save hundreds of thousands of dollars in health-care costs. An HRA can lower health costs by making people aware of their health—and any potential problems—and, depending on the services the HRA company offers, improve upon it. Also, an HRA program creates tremendous goodwill between client and advisor.

How HRAs work
When a small business participates in an HRA, an on-site testing company visits the workplace and takes about 10 minutes of each employee’s time to obtain height, weight, blood pressure and body fat percentage, along with a tube of blood. The employee also completes a simple questionnaire. The questions deal with employees’ smoking and eating habits, along with their family history, such as heart disease, cancer, etc. The HRA questionnaire can be completed by the employee on paper or online. The blood is tested for cotinine—which will confirm their smoking habits—cholesterol, triglycerdies, glucose and liver functions.

The results are sent to the HRA programmer and put together in personalized booklets explaining the tests and how each employee can improve his scores. The result is sent to the employee in the mail or hand delivered by a health-care professional from the testing company; either way, the service is always personal and confidential. Results can also be delivered via the Internet. An employee is given a score based on the essential facts he can control. Not smoking and having his body fat in check yield the highest number of points. If an employee is doing all he can to stay well and still has health issues, such as elevated cholesterol even with medication, he can obtain a doctor’s note explaining the circumstances of the problem and get additional points added to his score. This keeps the program HIPAA compliant.

Employers usually use incentives or bonuses to get their employees to participate in the program; some offer to contribute more money toward their insurance premium or deductible, while others raffle prizes to those who participate. Some employers even opt to make participation a mandatory requirement for the employee to get employer-paid health insurance. One company simply told its employees they would have to pay COBRA rates for their insurance unless they participated in the program. Getting employees motivated to join the program is essential. The greater the participation is, the more likely you are to find high-risk employees and begin working to correct their health problems.

Employer benefits
Employers receive a composite of the group so that they know the number of people who participated, the percentage of males and females who smoke, the number who are overweight, etc. They also get a results-comparison chart every year they test, so they can see which direction the company is going. Companies should bring in health-care counselors to help the employees improve their scores and then provide bonuses or incentives to those who do.

Only 30 percent of all people who have the insurance benefit of an annual physical actually take advantage of it. That leaves 70 percent who don’t bother to check on the status of their health regularly. The HRA is not meant to replace a visit to the doctor’s office, but it can be used to give employees a health-care reality check. If one high blood pressure reading can be caught, thereby preventing a stroke and major hospitalization, it could save thousands of dollars in claims costs—not to mention a life. Because of this, self-insured companies usually realize savings in the first year of the program.

Jo Steinberg is a 20-year member of NAIFA-Wisconsin. She has specialized in HRAs for 16 years. You can contact her at 414-258-6583.


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