January 14, 2013

Via Christi offers discounts to employees taking part in HealthierYou program

For Todd Stephens, a new program offered through Via Christi was “a wake-up call.”

For Todd Stephens, a new program offered through Via Christi was “a wake-up call.”

A family physician and faculty member of Via Christi’s family medicine residency program, Stephens decided to participate in the HealthierYou program when he found out the Via Christi system was offering $30 off monthly health insurance premiums for workers who participate.

Stephens had a physical exam, blood drawn and was measured. Although his lab results came back normal, he was surprised by one finding.

“The thing that caught my eye was my weight,” Stephens said. “I am not particularly overweight but my body mass index was 29. Normal is 24 or 25. I have a high risk for future heart disease or stroke.”

“I’m 49 years old, and I hadn’t really thought about this before. I wasn’t tuned in, even as a physician, that I was running a risk. It caught me off-guard. I thought I’d better practice what I preach.”

Now Stephens participates in the program’s weight-loss classes and uses protein shakes and meal replacements. He lost 30 pounds in about two months.

But the HealthierYou program isn’t only about encouraging employees to be healthy.

Via Christi is collecting information about employees who participate in the program in an effort to cut costs and possibly create a model for programs with local businesses.

Via Christi officials hope to use the information to find out what services employees use most and the barriers they encounter.

For example, in using the data, Via Christi found that about 11 percent of participants were diabetic.

“That particular disease has a whole lot of collateral damage in the health arena,” said Ed Hett, vice president for new models of care at Via Christi Health and a practitioner of family medicine.

“That’s an area that we’re focusing on managing in a different way by making programs more accessible to employees and trying to remove cost barriers with prevention, early detection and treatment.”

And they found that health system employees and hospital employees have generally worse health profiles than the population at large.

“That was an interesting thing to me,” Hett said. “You’d expect health care professionals to be healthier, but they’re not.”

The system hopes to use its model to partner with local businesses, tailoring programs to a particular business’ population.

“If we, as a health system, can figure out a way to control our own costs in a population, then we will be able to help an employer control costs in their population,” Hett said.

“It helps the entire community be a better place for employees and overall economy. (Companies) won’t be leaving because our health care costs are higher.”

In 2011, the cost of providing health benefits, including medical prescriptions, was about $55 million for the approximately 10,000 employees and 6,000 dependents covered under Via Christi’s health plan. That amount was a 17 percent increase from the year before.

Hett says the new model will increase costs for a time, but the hope is that a focus on preventive health and management of chronic conditions will reduce costs over time.

“We’re still in the increased-cost phase,” Hett said. “It’s an investment.”

In addition to offering participating workers reduced health insurance costs, the HealthierYou program offers a lower copay if participants use a HealthierYou in-network provider. The copay is $5 instead of $25. By using providers in the network, participants help Via Christi collect data faster, Hett said.

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