Peter Wald is willing to try almost anything to help his company’s workers get healthy. As the director of USAA’s wellness program, he has instituted discounted salads, bonuses for going to the gym, even mileage signs in long hallways.
His work seems to be paying off. Since starting the program in 2002, the San Antonio-based financial services company has reined in health costs. And 85 percent of the company’s 22,000 workers have joined.
The company’s program has three goals: to improve health, lower company health costs and improve productivity. Reducing and controlling obesity is a key focus. USAA researchers found that obesity is behind a significant amount of the company’s health care spending. “Health care is always a big chunk of your labor costs,” Wald said. “With obesity, health care costs have the potential to really go up.”
USAA offers employees a variety of inducements to get healthy:
- Employees pay $300 a year to use company fitness centers, which are in almost every company building. But workers who go once a week for a year get 25 percent off; those who go twice a week get half off; those who go three or more times a week get 75 percent off.
- USAA has built running and walking trails and paths at many of its campuses, and painted mileage markers in company hallways to encourage indoor walking. In company cafeterias, healthy food is at eye level, while food that’s bad for you is lower down — the opposite approach taken by many supermarkets. Healthy items have a prominent green tag.
- In 2008, the program added weight loss and other health incentives; employees who meet requirements can earn up to $550 a year. USAA also offers lower health insurance premiums for improving health; single workers can save up to $300, while those with dependents can save as much as $950.
- In company cafeterias, pricing encourages workers to buy healthy food, water costs $1.25, while soda is $1.50; a turkey burger costs slightly less than a beef burger; and a veggie burger costs less than a turkey burger. “We keep track of consumption,” Wald said. “It works.”
The incentives have contributed to increased weight loss, improved health measurements and decreased costs. In 2009, the company’s average employee BMI fell for the first time in five years. Over the past five years, its health insurance costs rose just two percent a year, far below the national average.80
In recent years, USAA’s annual health care costs have increased by just two percent a year, a quarter of the national average. On top of that, the average employee BMI has gone down slightly for two years in a row.
“It’s much cheaper to keep people healthy than it is to take care of them when they’re sick,” said Wald. “The way for us to control costs is to keep people healthy. We’re doing a full court press.”
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