Employee Health: Why Wellness Works

When Michael Schrage, CEO OF Centier Bank, was first pitched on the idea of opening an onsite health clinic at the bank’s 72,000-square-foot headquarters in Merrillville, Indiana, he was skeptical, to put it mildly. It wasn’t that it was out of character for the family-owned bank, which had for years invested in employee health-related perks, such as an onsite gym and fitness classes, a cafeteria with healthy options and a robust healthcare plan.

Schrage himself was a believer in preventative health and has for years had annual physicals at an executive health clinic in Chicago. But opening an onsite clinic seemed the first step toward self-insuring and, many years earlier, Centier had a bad experience with that. “We took horrendous hits on it,” he says. “It was one of those things where I said, ‘I’ll never do that again.’”

Plus, the numbers just didn’t seem possible. How could providing free care to 800 employees and their families possibly cost less than a traditional health insurance plan? “I had a very persistent team in human resources who pursued me, saying this will pay for itself,” says Schrage, who finally relented after a year and a half of convincing. “I said, let’s try it—but no promises.”

Four years later, Schrage is a believer. Since the clinic opened, the number of catastrophic claims has declined substantially and the bank has seen an overall savings of about 20% on its healthcare costs. “It really has paid for itself,” he says.

“Since the clinic opened, the number of catastrophic claims has declined substantially and OVERALL the bank has SAVED about 20% on healthcare costs. It has paid for itself.”

The clinic also might have saved Schrage’s life. “I went in for a sore throat and found out I had a basal cell carcinoma. Fortunately, it was caught very early,” says Schrage, noting he has heard many similar life-saving stories from employees, who thank him constantly for opening the clinic. “With early detection, you don’t have many of the big astronomical bills that you might have with diseases as they become more evident and prevalent.”

Reducing Healthcare Pain
Lowering expenses associated with chronic disease and catastrophic care is one of the most common reasons for investing in employee wellness programs. The U.S. currently spends over 17% of GDP on healthcare—the highest percentage of any country in the world, according to the most recent World Bank figures. More than three-quarters of that is spent on chronic diseases, many of which could be prevented with diet and exercise.

Around half of all Americans live with at least one chronic disease and a quarter have two or more, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Plus, productivity losses associated with workers with chronic diseases—in the form of disability, unplanned absences, reduced workplace effectiveness, increased accidents and negative impacts on work quality and customer service—cost 400% more than the cost of treating chronic disease, according to a report cosponsored by the World Economic Forum and PwC.

“Metabolic syndrome is massive,” says David Roddenberry, cofounder of HealthyWage. “Between diabetes, heart disease and musculoskeletal disease for aging populations, health-care costs are crazy. So what can you do? You can either push the costs to employees, or you can empower employees to improve their health.”

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