Medical Mutual Encourages Wellness for Life

It's always nice to know that your company's health insurance provider is a healthy company to work for. Such is the case with Cleveland-based Medical Mutual of Ohio, which has received several awards for the way it promotes healthy lifestyles among its 2,500 employees.

Most recently, the nonprofit National Business Group on Health honored Medical Mutual with its Best Employers for Healthy Lifestyles Award. National Business Group on Health President Helen Darling called Medical Mutual “an industry leader in the area of promoting healthy lifestyles.”

Medical Mutual may be an industry leader, but the keys to the success of its Wellness for Life program – which Medical Mutual launched 4 years ago – are some of the same ones that are required for success in any EHS program: support from upper management and allocation of proper financial and human resources.

“The No. 1 thing is the support from our chairman and CEO, Kent Clapp,” Medical Mutual Vice President of Care Management Paula Sauer told “From the beginning, this has been an initiative on the top of his list of priorities for the organization.”

With upper management support comes financial support, and the company has provided that in a number of ways. Medical Mutual:

  • Has a team of three and a half full-time-equivalent employees that is dedicated exclusively to the Wellness for Life program and to supporting Medical Mutual customers with their wellness programs.
  • In January 2006 opened a 10,000-square-foot fitness center at its Cleveland headquarters. Through pre-tax payroll deductions, nonsalaried employees can join the fitness center for $5 per month and management employees can join for $15 per month. Medical Mutual also has a fitness center at its Toledo, Ohio, facility. At its 10 locations that do not have on-site fitness facilities, the company offers discounts for memberships at local fitness centers.
  • Funds up to 70 percent of the cost of WeightWatchers for employees and up to $150 per year for Medical Mutual customers.
  • Funds smoking cessation for employees and Medical Mutual customers.
  • Through its SuperWell Nurse Line provides customers and employees access to a registered nurse and to health information 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, at no out-of-pocket cost.

These are just a few examples of how Wellness for Life, in the words of Medical Mutual, provides “cost-effective, high-quality educational health promotion activities for customers and employees.”

Employees Earn Points Toward Premium Reductions

Other components of Wellness for Life include:

  • An annual health risk assessment.
  • Walking for wellness.
  • Health screenings (including annual on-site mammographies).
  • Health education seminars (both lunch-and-learn sessions and Web-based seminars).
  • A renovated cafeteria (at its Cleveland headquarters) that offers a complete array of healthy eating choices.

For participating in any of the aforementioned programs and activities (including using the fitness center), Medical Mutual employees accrue points that can earn them reductions on their health insurance premiums.

It's All About Reducing Risk

Like other successful wellness programs, Medical Mutual uses voluntary health risk assessments (HRAs) to track employee health, measure the program's success, determine program priorities and provide an incentive for participating.

From the HRA data – as well as from employees' health claims data – Medical Mutual places employees in one of three risk categories: low, medium or high risk. Medical Mutual determines each employee's risk category by using the 12 risk factors – such as blood pressure, cholesterol levels and smoking status – defined by the University of Michigan Health Management Research Center.

Sauer said that Medical Mutual doesn't analyze the return on investment of the Wellness for Life program. The company instead measures the program's effectiveness by examining the annual HRA data and health claims data “to look at the risk of our employee population.”

“We've not actually put a dollar amount on it,” Sauer said. “We've really focused on reducing the risk of our employees.”

Regarding the risk of the employee population, Sauer noted that “we've seen a downward shift in the last 4 years of our population to a lower risk” category. Since the company launched Wellness for Life, Sauer estimated that 5 to 6 percent of the Medical Mutual work force has moved to a lower risk category.

A Unique Position

Sauer noted that, as a health insurance company, Medical Mutual is “in a unique position compared to most employers” when it comes to developing a wellness program.

“We're unique from the perspective that we already employ so many clinicians and medical personnel,” Sauer told “So that gives us access to all the information that we might need to put programs in place and evaluate programs.”

According to Sauer, Medical Mutual also is unique “in that we're accustomed to looking at and analyzing” employee health data, which enables the company to stay on top of health and disease trends.

In helping customers develop their own wellness programs, Medical Mutual has been able to learn from the best practices – and not-so-good practices – it has observed.

“We've seen a lot of successes and failures with customers that we work with,” Sauer said.

Those successes or failures, Sauer added, usually boil down to whether wellness programs have top management support and proper financial and human resources.

“If wellness is 1/16th of a human resource person's job, if there are no dollars allocated, if it's maybe not on the radar for their chairman and their president, those are the reasons I see things fail a lot,” Sauer said. On the flip side, when those support mechanisms are there, “those are the reasons I see things succeed.”

This is the fourth article in an series on workplace wellness. Upcoming articles will discuss promising practices and strategies for garnering upper management support.

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