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Continued: Dakota County offers workers incentive to stay healthier

  • Article by: LAURIE BLAKE , Star Tribune
  • Last update: January 20, 2014 - 8:28 AM

Unionized nurses at Allina Health, where the myHealthCheck program is in its third year, also have resisted the program. At Allina, which has 22,000 participating employees, the company is also using other wellness programs — including Weight Watchers, coaching and smoking cessation programs — to lower medical and pharmacy costs.

The first year was a big shift and employees didn’t feel as comfortable having wellness based on their health risks, said Jodi Morris, benefits manager for Allina. But with a possible discount of $39 a month on insurance premiums tied to the screening, employee participation now is high, she said. “We are seeing employees wanting to make changes in their lifestyle to get healthier.”


Approaches evolve

Employers are still experimenting with the best way to keep health care costs down. Of large employers with wellness plans, about 55 percent offer biometric health testing, and of those, 10 percent use the results to reward or penalize workers, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation survey of employers released last fall.

Other local governments in Minnesota are trying their own approaches, but none has yet taken its wellness efforts as far as Dakota County.

Hennepin County takes $15 off the copay for doctor ­visits and Ramsey County takes $20 off the copay for doctor ­visits for employees who take a health risk assessment and participate in wellness ­activities.

New in Hennepin County this year is the replacement of an “open access” insurance program with unlimited numbers of hospitals and doctors with two networks that will control costs with more coordinated care and records, said Jeremy Zajicek, benefits manager in Hennepin County Human Resources.

Hennepin would like to move toward results-based incentives if it can find measurements suited to all cultures and body types, he said.

Dakota officials said they had to try something new.

A 2012 HealthPartners health assessment among county employees found that 36 percent were overweight and 27 percent obese. It determined that nearly 56 percent had poor nutrition and nearly 36 percent were completely inactive, leaving 40 percent of county employees at risk of developing heart disease or diabetes even though the previous wellness program included Weight Watchers, yoga, zumba classes and strength training.

People participated, “but there was no way of measuring whether that was having any effect at all on the health of the employees and our medical claims,” Hohbach said.

MyHealthCheck gets results because when people are given a motivating incentive to get healthier, they take action and they “take the time to understand what their issues really are,’’ said Matt Nyquist, vice president of Life Time’s total health division.

Dakota County Commissioner Mike Slavik of Hastings said the program had given him a new understanding of what he can do to ­offset a history of heart disease in his family. He learned what kinds of meals he will have to eat to take off weight and lower cholesterol to gain the top incentive.


Laurie Blake • 952-746-3287

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