With healthcare costs continuing to grow at double digits and the aging baby boomer population nearing its retirement years, an impending healthcare crisis seems insurmountable. Businesses and their employees are facing ever-increasing healthcare premiums, deductibles, co-pays and out-of-pocket expenses. While health care savings accounts may provide some relief, many businesses and their employees cannot even afford the increasing premiums alone.
In addition, more and more people are living longer lives. On average, men are now expected to live to age 78 and women to age 83. Advances in medical treatments including heart bypasses, heart valves, pacemakers, drugs, therapies, surgeries, and safer environments have extended their lives even further. By living longer, they use more health care to achieve those ages. As more people access more health care, healthcare costs will continue to rise.
Together, businesses and individuals need to attack healthcare costs and utilization rates at their roots, to do a better job of maintaining and improving their own health through healthy diets, regular exercise, quitting smoking and moderating alcohol consumption. Changing human behavior on a massive scale is just like climbing a mountain; it must be done one step at a time.
In the Charlotte region, we are fortunate to have an abundance of highly accessible and talented healthcare professionals and well-equipped facilities. We are also blessed with a network of YMCAs and physical fitness facilities to support our ambitions to exercise regularly.
What we need are healthy living programs that motivate and facilitate businesses and their employees to participate in healthy life practices, including regular exercise and healthy diets. In support of that agenda, the Wellness Councils of America (WELCOA) has created an excellent blueprint outlining the fundamentals of workplace health promotion and programs in a book entitled Healthy, Wealthy and Wise. The book is downloadable free of charge and provides detailed information for businesses interested in setting up wellness programs. (Available at www.welcoa.org.)
WELCOA recognizes that any effort of this magnitude and importance requires planning, packaging, distribution and measurements. They recommend that actions become policies in the workplace, including policies on tobacco use, safety and emergency procedures, alcohol and drug abuse, safe driving and use of safety belts, healthful food choices at work, and vacation and leisure time policies. In implementing such policies, they emphasize the importance of understanding the impact of cultural diversity and differences within a company.
Participation in any program depends on the plan and how it is communicated. It must recognize the privacy of individuals as well as provide valuable training and educational programs to support the overall endeavor. Flexibility, childcare, latchkey programs and elder care may all be necessary to support participation in a broad health improvement program. Incentives, prizes, gifts and rewards may be used to engage participants and to keep them involved over a longer period of time.
Locally, Carolinas Healthcare System has initiated a new preventive health awareness multimedia campaign called “LiveWELL Carolinas!” They have also implemented “LiveWELL Carolinas!” in their own workplaces. In December 2005, when this program of physical exercise and weight management was announced to all of their employees, over 200 employees signed on in the first 45 minutes. And, in the first three months, the combined participants lost more than 2,000 pounds of body fat!
Imagine the possibilities when hundreds of businesses and their employees sign on to a more massive region-wide initiative. How about organizing that campaign all around Charlotte? Would you, your business and your employees participate? Carolinas Healthcare System is the first company. Who will be next? Will you? Call me or write me with your ideas. This might actually work!