Nearly half of city workers and spouses sign up for Mayor Emanuel’s wellness program
BY FRAN SPIELMAN City Hall Reporter firstname.lastname@example.org August 22, 2012 6:14PM
Updated: August 22, 2012 6:14PM
The threat of a $50 increase in monthly health insurance premiums is apparently enough to convince the city’s work force to shape up.
Nearly 50 percent of eligible city employees and their spouses — a pool of 22,420 participants — have joined Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s wellness program, a running start on the mayor’s projected $20 million savings.
Roughly 25,500 employees and spouses have yet to either accept or decline with the Aug. 31 deadline fast approaching. But, of the more than 22,000 employees and dependents who did respond, all but 54 chose to join. That’s an acceptance rate of 99.8 percent.
“That level of participation would give us a very wide net to engage with a large portion of the city population and, therefore, drive savings,” said Charlie Moore, director of account management for American Healthways Services LLC, the company awarded a $24 million contract to manage the program.
“The city has taken a very aggressive position in communicating the benefits to their employees. We’ve incorporated ambassadors — people within the city who communicate with their co-workers. The $50 [penalty] would certainly be an enticement to want to sign up. But, folks are seeing some of the positives of what the program can offer once they get into it and how we’re making it flexible for them to participate.”
Chicago taxpayers spend $500 million-a-year to provide health care for city employees, nearly ten percent of the city’s annual budget. Four percent of the city’s work force accounts for 60 percent of the annual expense.
Emanuel campaigned on a promise to save $20 million in 2012 — and $240 million over four years — by riding herd over costly, but controllable problems like diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and asthma. Obesity is also a contributor. So is heavy smoking.
The incentive-laden program is mirrored after the one pioneered by such private sector companies as Safeway and Johnson & Johnson.
It launched three weeks ago with a sign-in period that ends Aug. 31. That will be followed by health screenings, a health assessment survey employees are required to complete, referral to health counselors and classes on healthy eating, healthy choices and how to get started on an exercise program. Healthways might even offer exercise classes.
“This is changing the culture to a culture of wellness. They have to participate this first year. We want folks to be energized about participation,” Moore said.
“They’re not punished for anything. All we’re doing is encouraging them to participate every month — either by attending a health education seminar, taking one of our coaching calls on the phone for 15 minutes at their convenience, or going online to track their exercise or pull down healthy recipes. There’s a myriad of things they can do online. But, they have to do something every month.”
Participants are not required to deliver results, such as quitting smoking, reducing blood pressure or lose weight. All they need to do is try.
Those who refuse to participate will see their monthly health insurance premiums rise by $50, but not until January at the earliest, according to mayoral spokesman Tom Alexander.
The 47,000-member participation at the city, the Chicago Park District, the CTA, CHA and Chicago Public Schools is billed as the world’s largest municipal wellness program.
In addition to millions in savings, Moore said Chicago taxpayers should notice another major change.
“The end result will be higher levels of productivity,” he said. “If people participate, they’ll be more conscious of what they’re eating, more physically active and more engaged in work.”