Recently I spoke with Kim Stroud, the benefits manager for Florida’s Manatee County Government, about training their behavioral therapists in The Anderson Method weight control program. I was stunned with what I found they do. They have accomplished miracles in helping their 6900 employees and family members improve their health and reduce their healthcare costs.
The first thing that got my attention was the prominent “GET PAID TO LOSE WEIGHT!” on the home page of their insurance plan’s website. The website explains that the county will pay employees $400 this year for losing 5% of their weight, and over the longer term, it’s possible to earn as much as $4600 on this program. Incredible! Too bad I didn’t work for the county when I lost my 140 pounds!
Let me explain what I found about their groundbreaking health insurance and managed care approach.
Manatee County is self-insured, which many large employers are. That means that rather than having an outside insurance company finance and “manage” their healthcare, the county does it themselves. It’s like they have their own HMO. Unlike typical health insurance, not involved in much besides collecting premiums and processing claims, Manatee County’s “YourChoice Health Plan” has their own health promoting program and staff of professionals, including nurses, behavioral health specialists, dietitians, pharmacists and exercise physiologists.
“In early 2000, our health care costs were skyrocketing, mostly due to chronic conditions”, Stroud said. “The costs became untenable. We could not continue providing the health insurance and healthcare that we were providing, so we created our own ‘YourChoice Health Plan'”
The plan ties employee participation in preventive and wellness programs to the program and benefits they get. The more they engage in programs to improve their health, the less they pay in deductibles and co-pays, and the better the benefits. Not only that, but they get financial rewards for participating in various programs, such as losing weight, blood pressure checking, diabetes management, or taking a cardiac program, smoking cessation or exercise classes.
Because the incentives are so attractive, 93% of the employees choose to participate in the voluntary wellness programs to get the better benefits, and the overall changes in the years since this approach was initiated have been remarkable. Last year, 70% of the employees, 2138, participated in the Yweight program that pays them to lose weight, and they lost over 10,000 pounds, a feat that got them national attention on the Emmy award-winning network television show, The Doctors.
Stroud reports, “The County’s number of in-patient hospital visits is down 22% and chronic illnesses dropped 10% over the past year. Before we implemented the practice, we had $500,000 in diabetes related hospital fees. Now it’s $70,000. Last year, we saved over $300,000 due to the pharmacy advocate.”
The financial turn-around is jaw dropping, but what the county has gained in dollars is not the biggest benefit this program has produced. “Our members are more productive at work, they have more energy, they’re happier”, Stroud said. “I hear every year from our members who call or come by and thank us for providing this kind of plan, people catching early stage prostate cancer, breast cancer, blockage in their arteries –we are saving lives.” An employee stopping County officials in the elevator said it this way: “I can’t thank you enough. By pushing me to get my diabetes test, I now feel better than I have in 20 years. I’m better at everything I do now because previously, my blood sugar was never under control.”
Later, after our meeting, I could not help but think that what we have here is the model for what all healthcare plans should be. In most of the country, we have premiums and claims skyrocketing to bankrupting proportions while we get sicker and sicker, out of control with an obesity and diabetes epidemic, people not taking care of themselves, not seeing the doctor until they go to the ER. But not in Manatee County. In Manatee, people are getting better and healthcare costs are going down. Maybe I can help make that happen all over.
(This article was originally published in The Pittsburg Healthcare Report)