Challenging Diabetes

By Susan J. Wells

HR Magazine, June 2006What's Driving Employers' Cost-Control Efforts

Care management-a range of programs designed to improve employee health, including disease management-is now the No. 1 cost-control strategy of large employers, says Sue Willette, principal and leader of the national health and productivity management practice in the Minneapolis office of Mercer Human Resource Consulting LLC.

In fact, use of such programs grew rapidly last year as the percentage of employers offering at least one program jumped from 32 percent in 2004 to 41 percent, according to a 2005 Mercer survey of 3,000 employers. Two-thirds (67 percent) of large employers now offer one or more disease management (DM) programs-up from 58 percent in 2004.

Mercer itself has witnessed a 61 percent jump in interest in these types of programs by employers in just the past year, says Willette. Specifically, to better identify employees who could benefit from DM, employers are taking a longer-term view by offering health-risk appraisals-46 percent of large employers now use the strategy, up from 35 percent in 2004, the Mercer data reports.

"You can't just look at today's claims," she says. "You really have to address future risks as well. Self-reported health assessments can be an early identification tool for future risk."

At Perdue Farms Inc., in Salisbury, Md., for example, the company's Health Improvement Program initiative encourages employees to participate in a health screening and behavior modification program working through the company's on-site health care professionals.

The program focuses on improving employee health in five areas: blood pressure, cholesterol, tobacco use, weight control and exercise. Workers complete a health-risk appraisal, have blood drawn and complete a consultation with a specialist. They choose two health areas on which to focus and then meet periodically with the on-site practitioner to chart progress.

During a pilot of the program conducted in six poultry processing plants, employees showed a 25 percent reduction in risk factors, compared with a 2 percent reduction in the control group. The most dramatic improvement was in control of blood pressure, with a 70 percent reduction in the number of people with high blood pressure.

Based on these results, the health improvement plan was quickly expanded to other Perdue facilities, says Dr. Roger Merrill, chief medical officer and architect of the program. (For more on the Perdue program and on health care in the workplace, see the cover story in the April 2006 issue of HR Magazine.)

Susan J. Wells, a business journalist in the Washington, D.C., area and a contributing editor of HR Magazine , has more than 20 years of experience covering business news and workforce issues.

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