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How United HealthGroup and Jones Lang LaSalle promote wellness

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This post is by Adam Gaub, lead editor of SmartBrief for Health Care Marketers.

Skipping dessert? Hitting the gym? Getting your annual checkup?

Common-sense practices that promote better health may have benefits that go beyond personal health for some companies participating in UnitedHealthcare’s new personal reward program. Kickstarted in January, with three major companies — including UnitedHealth Group — participating in the trial, employers taking part in the reward program are paying their employees for getting in better shape — literally.

Representatives from real estate firm Jones Lang LaSalle and United HealthGroup spoke Tuesday at a breakout session of the National Business Group on Health annual conference in Washington, D.C., highlighting what has been a successful start to encouraging employees to trend toward wellness.

“Our focus is on rewarding action, completion and results,” said Howard Futterman, JLL’s vice president for benefits strategy. “We were conscious to not only reward ‘at risk’ and ‘unhealthy’ [groups], but the healthy for what they’ve done and continue to do.”The reward comes in the form of a $200 payment toward insurance costs — which will be increased to $300 in 2011 for JLL employees — when employees achieve various health-related tasks, such as lowering body mass index below 25, making preventative wellness visits to the doctor or lowering blood sugar levels. UnitedHealth offered a maximum of $450 to employees, which would seem like giving away too much, but UnitedHealth executives predict a return on investment by years two and three of the program after an initial cost, which is associated primarily with the gathering and distributing of the data.

Actuarial estimates show a decline in claims of between 1% and 2% , said UnitedHealth Vice President of Sales and Distribution Patti Walsh. Return on investment won’t necessarily be trackable in terms of  fewer sick days taken, but rather in catching treatable conditions early — such as high-risk pregnancies, breast cancer or diabetes. When employees took the test they were rewarded via a points system, which is tracked on a scorecard that can be accessed online or mailed, depending on company preference, and is controlled by the insurer, allowing employees to maintain privacy over their medical issues from their employers.

JLL manager of health sustainability Anne Beluschak said that the company promoted wellness coaching and employee-activities as part of the program, with 1,600 employees of the company stretched out across the U.S. Participating this year in the American Cancer Society’s 10-week “Active for Life” program. The company also created a volunteer health council made up of employees to come up with fun ways to promote wellness.

The results, she said, had employees excited about what they had accomplished, as the company is projecting 30% of participating employees would achieve the maximum amount of points and cash back in 2010.

“We’re starting to put a dollar amount on it that there’s some value to being healthy,” said UnitedHealth Group director of health and welfare Bobbie Lauer.

Image credit: kroach, via iStockphoto