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BCBS Tennessee looks to improve own employees' health through wellness program


As health insurers continue to press employers to improve employee health, one health insurer has taken its own message to heart.

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Tennessee initiated an aggressive wellness program to get its own employees healthier after it found more than half of those workers were obese, according to a report on BenefitsPro. The program--which offers financial incentives to participants--has motivated 60 percent of employees to get on board.

Other aspects of the wellness program included prohibiting smoking on its Chattanooga campus, opening an on-site fitness center and creating walking trails, offering healthier foods in its cafeteria and raising prices on high-fat items such as burgers, fries and pizza. The most effective measure, however, was providing employees with pedometers and urging them to walk between 5,000 and 10,000 steps per day.

Blue Cross says its program has had measurable results. People who walked between 5,000 and 10,000 steps a day and were classified as moderate exercisers visited the emergency room 50 percent less than those who did not exercise. And healthcare costs of those who exercised were 20 percent lower.

Obese workers who took at least 5,000 steps per day had almost 19 percent fewer hospital stays and incurred an average of $247 less in annual healthcare costs than those who did not exercise.

Additionally, employees who participated and met walking targets and other fitness goals received incentives including up to $800 in cash and more than $800 in health insurance premium rebates.

For other insurers looking to get into the wellness game and boost their own employees' health, wellness program advocates say instead of focusing on clinical prevention, programs should focus on developing healthy habits, as FierceHealthPayer reported.