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General Motors Corp. recently discovered that wellness works--not just for active employees, but for retirees as well.
The world's largest automaker shaved hundreds of dollars off the annual bills of each retiree who participated in a targeted wellness program that started with a health risk assessment.
Both an electronic and a paper version of the risk assessment were made available to participants. Retirees were informed about the Lifesteps wellness program through health fairs and communication with various union halls.
"There was a little over $400 in savings for each individual who just takes the (health reimbursement arrangement), but it's $570 if they take the HRA and engage in two or more programs," said Dr. Joel Bender, corporate medical director at GM in Detroit. "The use of the HRA helps direct individuals as well as providers."
GM's Lifesteps program was part of a larger study sponsored by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and conducted by Ann Arbor, Mich.-based Thomson Medstat. Researchers assessed nearly 60,000 participants' use of health care services from 1996 through 2002. The findings were published in the November issue of the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.
GM is among a select group of employers that are introducing wellness programs to retirees with the hope that teaching them to adopt healthier lifestyles will lower their future medical costs.
At the start of 2007, Columbia, S.C.-based utility SCANA Inc. extended to retirees all of the health improvement and management programs it offers to its active employees, according to Chris McSwain, director of compensation and benefits. "We're caring about these people just like we do the actives. We want them to improve their lifestyle and health because their claims still hit us," he said.
Moreover, "we're trying to create culture and expectation around health so that people who retire will continue to use the benefits they used while (they were) active employees," Mr. McSwain said.
Indeed, "individuals who participate in Lifesteps while active employees are far more likely to continue with healthier habits as retirees," said Dr. Bender. "That reduces our long-term liability and improves the health of these individuals as well."