Heathcare Conversations: Wellness in the Workplace

About this episode:

In a special episode of UB Insider, wellness programs are popular in workplaces as companies make efforts to keep their workforces healthy. Utah Business‘ Pat Parkinson talks to a panel of experts about the pros and limitations of these programs. Subscribe or download this episode via Stitcher and iTunes.

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Pat Parkinson: Greetings everyone. My name is Pat Parkinson and I’m thrilled to be podcasting today from the beautiful Grand America Hotel in Salt Lake City, Utah. I’m here at a conference that Utah Business magazine is putting on. It’s about the future of healthcare. And we’ve been speaking all day today to people from all different facets of the healthcare industry. Very innovative facets, if you will. Which makes sense since we’re talking about the future. And these guests I have in front of me here are no exception.

Let me introduce our guests. They’re fresh off of a panel discussion about wellness programs that I think both individuals and employers and businesses will be very interested in listening to. Let me start off by introducing our guests here. First, we have Jeana Hutchings. And all three of these guests are from Diversified Insurance, sorry, Diversified Insurance Group. And I’m going to have Gina explain, kind of describe Diversified Insurance Group for us, but let me do the intros first here. We have Gina Hutchings, we have Linnea Bentz, and we have Bob Howard. They are here, they just did a panel discussion about wellness programs. The title of the panel was pretty interesting. What was the title of that panel Gina?

Jeana Hutchings: The title of the panel was, “Is Your Wellness Program Sick?”

Pat Parkinson: What does that mean? What does that question mean?

Jeana Hutchings: That can mean a variety of things. That question was meant to be thought-provoking to each group. And if they’ve started a wellness program, do they feel like it’s been impactful? Do they think it’s done any good in their organization? Or, we also had several guests with us on the panel who had had a lot of experience in their own organizations and they were able to explain to us, some of the innovative things that they’ve done.

Pat Parkinson: Nice. Let’s back up just a bit. Kind of a seemingly wonky sounding term there, wellness program. We hear it a lot. Is it a newer term? Is it a newer thing? Or, what is a wellness program, Gina?

Jeana Hutchings: That’s a great question. Because wellness programs really started back in the 80s – in like 80’, 85’ – and they were the rage for a little while. Because what happened is that there were just a lot of programs and information that I think were somewhat fluffy. They got 10%-15% of a group to participate. And they were not impactful in organizations. So because they didn’t make an impact on the bottom line, organizations and employer groups, they lost. They lost momentum. They didn’t come back again until the 90’s, in the late 90’s when healthcare costs started to increase dramatically.

Wellness is kind of a bucket term. We call it a corporate health strategy, because it isn’t just about, what does wellness mean? It’s really a strategy within a corporation that helps employees of that organization to be healthier. Whether it’s mental health, whether it’s physical health, whether it’s financial health.

Pat Parkinson: Wow. Financial?

Jeana Hutchings: Absolutely. Financial as well. Because the better position that employees are in, the better employees they are. Because if you’re at work and you’re worried about if you’re sick, if you can’t pay your bills, if you’re fighting with your family because you have bratty teenagers and you’re preoccupied with all of those issues, it’s hard to be a good employee. So it’s affecting the bottom line of employers.

So, people say, why should employers be getting involved in my life? That’s my own personal life. Why should they get involved? And it’s a good question. Because in the end it affects your life as an employee. And it affects the productivity and the bottom line of a company. The growth strategy of a company is all about its employees. And if it’s employees aren’t at their best, neither is the company.

Pat Parkinson: Linnea, what is the role of a company…why don’t you tell us a little bit about Diversified Insurance Group first. And then tell us about the role of a company like that in helping businesses establish wellness programs and form wellness programs.

Linnea Bentz: Well I think Jeana set it up with as she states, Diversified as a whole and kind of our belief in wellness. First, I’d like to say that wellness is the total wellbeing of an individual. It’s not just a wellness component as far as the gym and eating healthy. It is the wellbeing. It is the productivity. It’s keeping employees on the job…so that your bottom line… It meets the impact of companies who, for example, who are in technology and have clients who they have demands and needs and deadlines.

Without good healthy employees, whether it’s related to wellness, or the mental wellbeing, physical wellbeing, it incorporates the whole partnership. One of the things that we do at Diversified, and I think we do quite well in the market here is identifying client specific needs. And every client has a different need based on the culture. And it stems from the executive level buy-in, down to the delivery of the employees who it impacts. So we take great pride in understanding our clients and their culture and who their clients are. Because our clients have clients as well. And it’s important that we help them keep their clients happy and healthy and on the job.

Pat Parkinson: Bob, you obviously work closely with wellness programs as well. How well do they work, generally speaking?

Bob Howard: That is a great question, too. That’s probably the million-dollar question. Because everyone wants to know how well they work. Employers want to know exactly how much time and dedication do I put into any kind of effort, financially or time-wise, to provide wellness strategies for my company, and is it going to pay off?

Pat Parkinson: Because it’s obviously an optional thing, of course. It’s even a philosophical thing.

Bob Howard: It’s an optional thing. It’s very philosophical in the past, but now it’s getting some teeth in it. Because after the last 10 years, we’re starting to see proof by firms like ours that can measure the outcomes of a wellness plan’s implementation into a company and whether or not the time and money put into it is having a big time effect on their bottom line – improvement. And stepping back just a second, everyone talks about healthcare.

Healthcare, when you mention that to people, they think, that’s the treatment of illness. It’s someone going in to receive some sort of mental or physical treatment of a condition that they incur. Five of the top conditions in the world today are preventable. So we think the best claim that can ever happen is one that never happens. If you put wellness efforts and education into employees to be able to take better care of themselves, then you may never have that claim period. You may not have the diabetes that occur, the heart ailments that occur, the cardiology, the respiratory issues and disease. All those things could be preventable if someone knows, has tools at their disposal of what I can do to become a healthier employee. And going back to what Jeana was saying about having better presenteeism instead of absenteeism. When you have people that are at work, that feel better, that are engaged and are healthier, they’re going to be a better employee. They’re going to stay at work. They won’t be off getting health treatments. They’re going to be a better contributor to their family. Everything is better.

So, employers are thinking, how can we put programs into place that really affect someone’s overall health. And how can we get on top of these major medical conditions that could have maybe never happened in the first place. So that’s where wellness comes from, and that’s where the big push is today. Because it becomes such a big part of an employer’s success of being in business in the first place. If their healthcare costs get too out of range, it may sink their entire company. So they’ve got to get their hands around it.

Pat Parkinson: Yeah. You said a lot there. Let me just ask you one follow up question before I move on to someone else, just because you mentioned it. And that is, if your wellness program is sick, I imagine that those metrics, those reporting metrics that you talked about, that’s key to fixing your wellness program.

Bob Howard: Absolutely.

Pat Parkinson: What do you report about? You said that you all can show whether its working or not. What kinds of metrics or data do you look at, if I may ask?

Bob Howard: Our company has put a lot of equity into programs into data collection, software, and people that can pull the numbers out of claims utilizations that happens within a health plan. Including tying into an onsite clinic’s approach, which has never been done before, and marrying the two points of data together so that we can consult a client, within – being very sensitive to all of the HIPPA restrictions and working within the law – we can give them guidance on what you can do proactively to help your population be in better shape. And we work with the medical community that is tied in with the plan, either medical management teams within an insurance carrier, or doctors that are onsite with the health clinic, we can help them direct the care to the people that need it. So that’s huge.

Pat Parkinson: Jeana, are a lot of, and I’m not speaking about wellness programs that you all handle, of course, just generally speaking. Are a lot of wellness programs sick to some degree or another, right now, at companies?

Jeana Hutchings: Absolutely. I think we need to qualify what sick means. Because when we say sick, I think a better word for that is that they might not be impactful. It might just be fluff. It might not be making a difference in what their goals, what they’re trying to accomplish as a company. So you can have an employee perk, that says, ok, we’re going to pay for gym memberships. Great. But how do you know if anyone’s going to the gym? How do you know if it’s making a difference? How do you know if it’s affecting your claims? And employers, it’s interesting, because at first they’re reluctant. Because they don’t want to make people do things. They don’t want to cause any grief within the employees. But over time, and that’s the reason why you have to understand the culture of the company and you have to provide steps to get to an accountability based program. Because until you can get the employees engaged, and they can have ownership in their health and in the process, you’re not going to make a difference in your overall costs.

One of the great questions that we got in the panel today is, she said, my employees would much rather us spend money on, rather than spending money on incentives and gym memberships and all those kinds of things, they just want to be paid more money. But my response to that was, it does pay them more money. Because if your healthcare costs continue to increase, employees pay a portion of those healthcare costs. And so the employer pays a part and the employees pay a part. And if those continue to go in out of control increases, then that employee, that’s a pay cut every single time that happens.

Pat Parkinson: Isn’t that a big part of convincing a company to do this? Convincing them of that very point that you just spoke to?

Jeana Hutchings: Absolutely.

Pat Parkinson: Who’s harder to convince? The individual, the employee, or the employer?

Jeana Hutchings: Both. I would say that they are equally as difficult. And so, because you can’t really have an effective program unless the leadership buys into the concept and believes it’s going to make a difference. Now, as Bob was talking about, having outcome studies is critically important. With the outcome studies, it’s so important to have the data to be able to show how it’s making a difference. Now, if somebody has heart disease, you’re not going to change that overnight. But, we have been able to see, we’ve been doing this now, accountability based programs with clients for 11 years. We have great outcome studies. We have one client, who over a six-year period, they’ve had an increase of 7%, not a year, in six years. So that’s been a percent a year, just over a percent a year during that time period. You show me other employers who have had those kinds of increases. So it’s been amazing.

Pat Parkinson: So you’re saying that’s small?

Jeana Hutchings: That’s small. The averages have been about 10% a year during that same time period. So think about as a company, your employees have had minimal increases in their healthcare costs, and as an employer, at that point, you’re probably 30-40% lower than your competition in your healthcare costs. That goes right to your bottom line. So how much does that improve your profitability as a company if you can control your healthcare costs?

Pat Parkinson: You’re really speaking to the employers right now.

Jeana Hutchings: Totally. But, it isn’t just to the employers, it’s to the employees. Because those employees in that company, what if those employees in that same company would have had a 10% increase in their portion of the premium. So, over that seven years, that employee, that would have been a pay cut over those six, seven years. And they’ve had minimal increases every year, where other employees have experienced big increases. So both benefit in a long-term strategy. That’s the reason why it has to be a long-term strategy, and then having the tools to measure those outcomes.

Pat Parkinson: Linnea, tell me, I think all of you have kind of alluded to some of the motivations that drive companies to have these types of programs. What do you see, Linnea, as the main motivation? I’m going to kind of devil’s advocate you a little bit, you might feel. Is it improving the bottom line? Or is it maybe more altruistic? Is it more company culture centered? Is it all of the above? What do you see a lot? What’s the trend there?

Linnea Bentz: That’s a great question. And again it goes back to identifying the different cultures within each of the companies. Some of the companies, it’s driven by the bottom line. Your premiums are going to increase, as Jeana indicated. If we don’t do something about controlling some of the costs on the front-end, our premiums are going to increase down the road.

Pat Parkinson: For some management teams, that would be the most appealing facet, so to speak.

Linnea Bentz: Absolutely. For other companies, the culture is strictly around the total wellbeing. And my corporate individuals care about me. The buy-in from the senior level position is key in making any wellness program successful within any company. So it’s really the culture. And that’s what’s kind of unique is identifying the needs of each of the different companies and what’s going to get them engaged. Because without the engagement, the programs aren’t successful.

Pat Parkinson: How receptive, we have a few minutes here, just to let you all know, the listeners that is, I’m going to end with hopefully some actionable advice from each of these guests related to this. But I want to ask Linnea one more question here before we get to those final responses. Linnea, in today’s culture, to the extent you can speak to it, and we’ve spoken about how these kind of popped up back in the 80’s, how they kind of evolved and devolved through the 90’s and such. How receptive is the business climate now to what you’re working on and what we’re discussing here? How receptive are these management teams? Is it different? I guess I’m thinking about, all we hear about kind of company culture these days, we talk a lot about millennials and we talk a lot about the changing workplace. And I wonder what all those dynamics mean for what you do as it relates to wellness programs.

Linnea Bentz: No, absolutely. And that’s a perfect question because the millennial population that we’re seeing, this, it’s the buzzword for them. It’s really an investment that companies are making in their employees. It’s attracting them. It’s retaining them. It’s showing that there’s an investment by our senior management team that we are healthy, and they have an investment in us. And you’re going to see more and more companies competing on, not just blended wellness programs through their current medical carriers, but more on a standalone basis. A lot of what Bob was referring to, integrating it with your clinics, onsite clinics. Showing that we are providing new avenues to make you better at work, make you better at home.

Pat Parkinson: That’s great stuff. Bob, I guess let’s start off with you. We have a few more minutes here. I’d love to hear, Bob, what’s top of mind for you? Whether you’re kind of playing ambassador for your industry, or you bump into somebody at the grocery store, or you’re just thinking about who might struggle with these things the most. You can choose the audience, or speak to all of the audiences. What advice can you offer? Whether it’s an employee who’s having a hard time buying into something like this, whether it’s a management team that’s having that, what kind of advice can you offer?

Bob Howard: I would just say that it goes back to an educational platform. It has to deal with if you want any kind of improvement in the community around you, the employers, wherever you may be, where it’s a collection of people trying to get their arms around healthcare. It seems to be such a hot topic right now because of healthcare reform. Everyone is so concerned about, am I going to have healthcare for me and my family? Am I going to be able to afford it long term? Will I be just out on the streets without care? Will my kids go without care?

Pat Parkinson: That must make your job difficult in some respects.

Bob Howard: It is difficult, but it’s absolutely an opportunity for us. We love, when healthcare reform actually hit, a lot of people were afraid of it. And thought it would threaten the agent or consultant marketplace. For us, it did not. It did the reverse. What it did is it proved that you have to be a good consultant in the world today to educate your client on what options they have, what direction they can go into that is beneficial, that is productive, that really gets the job done. We feel that we’ve grown significantly because of that strength. And we feel good walking away at the end of the day that our clients are very educated on what options they have going forward. We’re not just giving them some information that they’re going to walk away the next day and go, I don’t know how to use that. I don’t know how it pertains to my people.

Pat Parkinson: Yeah. I can see how…I don’t mean to interrupt you. I can see how a wellness program would really address and maybe comfort people with that uncertainty of healthcare reform. Because you’re really offering a way, probably in some people’s minds, to kind of double down on that uncertainty or kind of show pad for that uncertainty.

Bob Howard: Yeah. That there’s another option, there’s another way. It doesn’t have to be just covered by a hospital network or doctors. It’s a collaboration with them. And if you can take better care of yourself, you will actually be more engaged with preventative healthcare that will make you a healthier person.

Pat Parkinson: Jeana, how about you? Do you have anything, any tips or kind of advice for people who might be on the fence when it comes to wellness programs or who might not understand them as well as they maybe need to?

Jeana Hutchings: My advice at this point would be that you need to find a good consultant that can partner with you, who has been through all of this. Who’s tried this and tried that and knows what works and knows what doesn’t work. They can help you avoid a lot of missteps. And to create a strategy that would work, a multi-year strategy that can help you get to the place you want to as a company. That would be my best piece of advice, is to find that partner.

Pat Parkinson: And Diversified Insurance Group is a company that has those consultants, obviously?

Jeana Hutchings: Absolutely. And we’ve been working with groups for lots of years and have a lot of experience. And our very favorite thing, you can tell we’re passionate about working with companies to find solutions to, not just wellness, but healthcare reform and overall strategic plan with their employee benefits. Because in the end, you have to recruit talent. And so you need to have a benefits program that’s going to recruit and retain and help people be at their optimum so that they can help your company grow.

Pat Parkinson: You really believe in wellness programs?

Jeana Hutchings: Absolutely.

Pat Parkinson: You can always make a case for wellness programs?

Jeana Hutchings: Absolutely.

Pat Parkinson: How about you Linnea? What can you say? What do people need to know about wellness programs from your perspective?

Linnea Bentz: You said it perfectly. You can always make a case for a wellness program. Regardless of the size of a company.

Pat Parkinson: It’s a broad question.

Linnea Bentz: Very broad question.

Pat Parkinson: Excellent. Does anybody want to add anything else? I think we’ve had a really fun conversation, an interesting conversation today about wellness programs. I think somebody who listens to this conversation, this podcast is going to learn something about wellness programs. Do you agree?

Jeana Hutchings: I hope so.

Pat Parkinson: Yeah, me too.

Jeana Hutchings: And we would love the opportunity to work with any employer group who is struggling to figure out a plan and a strategy.

Pat Parkinson: Can you give us some contact information, Jeana?

Jeana Hutchings: Absolutely. Please call Diversified Insurance Group, 801-325-5000. And we would love to have the opportunity.

Pat Parkinson: And you, I assume you don’t, if somebody is listening to this outside of Utah, you work with companies all over the place? Or only in Utah?

Jeana Hutchings: We do work with companies all over the world. All over the country. I would say the majority of our clients are in the Intermountain West area, but we do have clients all over the country.

Pat Parkinson: And you work just as well with someone on the East coast as you do with someone in Salt Lake City?

Jeana Hutchings: Absolutely. Technology today makes working with clients anywhere around the country, we can do that anywhere.

Pat Parkinson: Well I’m thrilled to have been able to have this opportunity to learn more about wellness programs, and you all speak very well to it. So thank you for educating me and thank you for educating our listeners today. Enjoy the rest of the conference.