The Health Merchants

Yet the balance can be hard to attain, especially for managers, those driven, type-A personalities who willingly sacrifice scarce leisure time to meet an urgent business goal. We all know that more than time is being used up, but it is too easy to brush aside concern for our health in the face of new challenge or crisis. Many ignore the issue completely until their first encounter with major medical catastrophe.
Companies invest large sums in their managers so it makes sense to nurture that investment. Last year saw significant growth in the executive health industry. Health insurance companies in New Zealand followed the global trend of setting up corporate wellness programmes (health education, promotion and on-site checks) for clients, instead of employers waiting until staff cracked or had an accident before seeking solution.
Steve Gregory, at Aetna Health (NZ), uses an apt analogy. “Instead of providing the reactive ambulance at the bottom of cliff, our aim is to be proactive with fence at the top.” This new approach demonstrates respect for staff and willingness not to push people to their limits. It has huge impact on morale and, of course, can be used as hot button in retention strategy.
Retention is one of the key corporate issues of the millennium and motivates companies to manage the health care of staff. Christina Rogstad, at Southern Cross Healthcare, mentions the company’s most recent nationwide survey. It found that 88 percent of employees felt positive towards their employer if they had subsidised health insurance and were 60 percent more likely to remain with their employer as result of the subsidy.
“Stress is major factor for most managers these days,” says Rogstad. “Stress accumulates with company mergers, businesses moving offshore and the constant drive to improve the bottom line. The light at the end of the tunnel is that some insurance companies in New Zealand are going beyond health problems and are adding value by introducing range of wellness programmes.”
These include topics like disease management, health and lifestyle and even emotional states. Rogstad gives an example of the latter. “If an employee has severe legal problem, or child with drug problem, the employee will bring stress into the workplace so we are trying to bring in the necessary services to address these types of problems.” Disease management programmes focus on problems like diabetes, asthma, low-back pain and chronic heart disease and are monitored by both GPs and Southern Cross.
Southern Cross provides one of the most comprehensive wellness programmes in New Zealand for its own 500 employees. All staff are given free medical checks every two weeks, annual flu vaccinations, ad hoc medical help and attend bi-monthly wellness seminars directed at prevention and leadership education courses. Organised by corporate wellness experts Primary Corporate Health, the programme had the initial goal of reducing absenteeism, reducing workers’ compensation costs and increasing employment satisfaction. “Today the goals are more employee focused. We aim to give our staff some employment security by having support in prevention, accident, illness, surgery or mental/stress problems,” says Rogstad. “Our clients see that our approach works for us. The trick is to have these wellness programmes at one end of the spectrum and health insurance at the other, so companies can ensure more cost-efficient health package for their staff.”
Improving the health of an organisation can result in lower insurance premiums (a bit like the way reducing workplace accidents can lead to lower ACC levies), but it also has positive impact on absenteeism. Whereas subsidised health plan may cost employers up to one percent of payroll per annum, absenteeism can cost up to 20 percent. According to Aetna’s most recent survey, New Zealand industry loses around $3 billion annually as result of illness or injury.
Studies by Aetna reveal disturbing number of cases in which the direct costs are insignificant beside the flow-on impacts. Aetna’s Steve Gregory says, “Compliance to achieve safe workplace is just one dimension to the whole health and safety issue. The greatest risk and cost lurks behind all this in absenteeism, loss of quality, loss of skill and reduced decision-making ability.
“We realised that insuring someone after they become ill is of some benefit to employers, but not as much as helping them avoiding becoming ill in the first place. Our programmes are conducted on-site by registered health professionals. They provide flu inoculations [something many companies are paying for on top of their insurance premiums] and series of general health checks to gauge person’s overall state of health,” says Gregory.
Typical health checks cover: height, weight and body mass checks; cholesterol checks; urinalysis; blood pressure; general lifestyle questions (eating, drinking, smoking and exercise questions); and checking that females are up to date with their screening for breast and cervical cancer.
After these tests, individuals are given advice and often referred to their family GP for follow up. Already cases of undiagnosed diabetes and cancer have been found. The employer receives company “warrant of fitness” highlighting areas of concern. Aetna will then assist them to implement programmes aimed at addressing these issues.
Financial rewards are inevitable when companies look at health and wellness collectively and start to manage for the prevention of accidents and illness. Shaun Williams, marketing manager at Tower Health (which recently bought AXA Health), is also an advocate for wellness programmes as way to reduce health risk.
Williams gives an example of how this benefit helped father of three from Wellington. “This man had three-yearly free medical as part of his surgical cover and discovered he was suffering from the early stages of prostate cancer. He used his insurance policy to seek immediate treatment. That’s the sort of no-claims bonus you can’t put price on.”
Tower’s approach to corporate health is one of partnership between the company, health management organisation and the insurer. “As the benefits from health management manifest themselves, this in turn impacts on the claim experience and therefore the premiums for their insurance. Whether it be health insurance, workers compensation, life insurance or income protection,” explains Williams. Tower promotes the concept of health management both externally to its clients and internally to its employees. By using the services of two health management organisations, Performance Laboratories and Primary Corporate Health, it can offer wide range of “StayWell” programmes.
From Group Risk insurer’s viewpoint this requires transparent reporting that allows company to see exactly where its insurance dollar has been spent. From an employer’s perspective, paying claims within reasonable timeframes and removing unnecessary administration are priorities.
Tower is so keen to promote wellness that it even pays for lifestyle choices that encourage healthy living. “We’ve paid for tennis club memberships and even sleeping bags for hill walkers in an effort to provide value to people who don’t claim on their insurance policy.” Other companies have taken their own initiative to encourage healthy living. Clear is an apt example here with its rack of mountain bikes in the lobby. Staff can relieve stress by biking around Lake Pupuke on Auckland’s North Shore. It’s not cure-all but the company is making an effort to create healthy environment, both mentally and physically.

Visited 9 times, 1 visit(s) today

A focus on culture

Rabobank’s 520-plus New Zealand employees work from 27 locations – places like Ashburton, Pukekohe and Feilding and from a purpose-built head office in Hamilton. Its employees are proud of the

Read More »
Close Search Window