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A healthy enthusiasm for well-being

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For Philia Swam, improving employees' health and wellness has been the passion driving her career. For much of her 18 years with LafargeHolcim U.S. and predecessor company Lafarge North America Inc., Ms. Swam has launched a slew of initiatives to control the costs of LafargeHolcim's health plans, which cover about 13,000 U.S. employees and dependents, while increasing the company's focus on wellness.

“We have shaped our health and wellness culture to focus on early prevention and detection of chronic conditions,” said Ms. Swam, who is manager of health, wellness and group benefits at LafargeHolcim U.S. in Chicago.

Last year, LafargeHolcim switched its U.S. employees to high-deductible consumer-driven health plans, but it also gave employees a powerful financial incentive to participate in wellness programs — sizeable company contributions to health savings accounts.

For example, the company contributes $650 to each employee's HSA, and their spouses receive an equal contribution if they are screened for metabolic syndrome, which includes checking waist circumference, blood pressure, blood sugar, triglycerides and HDL cholesterol levels.

If they have no more than two of the five risk factors and test negative for exposure to tobacco smoke, they receive the full HSA contribution.

If they have three risk factors and/or test positive for nicotine, they must complete health coaching to get the full $650.

That incentive clearly is attractive, as 95% of employees participate in LafargeHolcim's on-site health screening programs, which Ms. Swam said will improve employees' overall health and detect medical problems early on, saving the company money in the longer term.

“If you have metabolic syndrome, you are two to four times more likely to get heart disease, kidney disease, a stroke, cancer and diabetes. Our position was that for a majority of our population, those conditions are preventable and reversible. Why wouldn't we focus on them, because we know most people can make a change?” Ms. Swam said.

Giving employees a strong financial incentive to have wellness exams is one of several initiatives Ms. Swam has put in place to improve employee's health while also controlling company costs, for which she has been named the Business Insurance 2016 Benefit Manager of the Year®.

Another initiative, a nurse engagement plan through health insurer Aetna Inc., gives employees with chronic conditions such as asthma, diabetes and high blood pressure easy access to Aetna nurses.

“The goal is for the health plan enrollees to get help and support to better manage the condition and get care, avoid problems and enjoy better health,” Ms. Swam said.

Employees and spouses who enroll in Aetna in Touch Care receive a $75 company contribution to their HSAs.

The results, she said, have been “incredible.” Last year, 79.2% of the population with acute or chronic health conditions participated in Aetna in Touch Care.

Also incredible, she said, is that the wellness program efforts helped limit LafargeHolcim's health plan costs to an increase of just 3.8% last year.

Colleagues credit Ms. Swam's successes to her fervor for health care and ongoing commitment to make needed changes.

“She is passionate about health and wellness, and has a high-energy drive. That is what has made her so successful,” said Laureen Strohl, LafargeHolcim's director of compensation and benefits in Chicago.

“She has great business sense combined with a passion for the wellness of employees,” said Chris Mack, LafargeHolcim's director of industrial relations in Chicago.

“It is not just a job; health and wellness are one of the passions of her life,” said Alexis Langlois, the company's Chicago-based regional head of human resources and integration for North America.

Ms. Swam's “biggest accomplishments are all due to her ability to embrace and introduce change. She is not afraid of trying new ways,” said Wendy Calcagno, LafargeHolcim's health and wellness coordinator in Southfield, Michigan.

Dave Ratcliffe, a principal at Xerox HR Services in Washington and a LafargeHolcim health care consultant, attributes Ms. Swam's successes to her vision and ability to get the backing of top company management.

“She is prepared to take on aggressive and cutting-edge strategies and to make them happen,” Mr. Ratcliffe said. “She is confident in her ability to win top management support, and she gained their full support.”

Ms. Swam, who also has overseen moving retirees to a private health insurance exchange while expanding voluntary benefits for U.S. employees of the company that provides cement, concrete, aggregates and asphalt to a variety of industries, said her efforts are ongoing.

“While we continually monitor health care changes that occur in our industry and the U.S. marketplace, we must also measure our competitiveness from an internal perspective. We want to make certain we use our health care dollars wisely, ensure that we receive value for our health care spending and offer health care benefits consistent with the marketplace,” Ms. Swam said.