Forum looks into wellness initiatives

Published 5:00 pm Saturday, September 11, 2010

CAO Adam Rees concludes the community health care discussion Friday at the Hormel Historic Home. — Matt Peterson/

Austin Medical Center and the Austin Chamber of Commerce held a health care reform forum Friday to discuss wellness initiatives throughout Austin’s workforce.

“We want to ultimately make Austin a very vital and healthy community,” said Dr. Doug Wood, medical director of Quality Academy Mayo Clinic.

“In the end that should translate into a stronger community because then employers will want to stay here for the strong workforce.”

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The forum, which was held at the Hormel Historic Home, featured a panel of experts from the medical and insurance fields. The panelists gave an overview of the recently passed health care reform bill and how it could affect both business owners and their employees.

Wood suggested that guests at the forum brainstorm incentives to encourage health and wellness for their employees.

“We need to change our orientation to one of health,” Wood said.

“If we don’t take advantage of this opportunity we will be worse off that we were in the past,” Wood also said, explaining that employers can view the penalties in the health care bill as incentive to improve the health of the workforce.

Charles Moline, president of CFS Companies, Inc., echoed this sentiment, saying, “Wellness is where it’s at. We’ve got to be focused on wellness.”

Guests at the forum brainstormed the benefits of creating a healthier workforce and agreed that a healthier workforce equates to more productivity, a more attractive work atmosphere and a lower cost of operation since less money would be spent on health care in regards to pre-existing conditions and illness.

Wood added that spending less money on health care isn’t only beneficial for the mere purpose of saving money. “If you spend less on health care, you can spend more on other programs in the community,” Wood said.

Moline explained a program in which employees received a $500 deductible slash for each controllable health factor they managed. For instance, if an employee quit smoking or reduced their body mass index or cholesterol to a certain point, they would be eligible for a $500 decrease on their deductible.

Forum attendees agreed during discussion that programs like the one Moline outlined would be a way to encourage employees to improve their health.

Adam Rees, chief administrative officer of Austin Medical Center, also agreed that such incentive programs have the potential to be highly effective.

“We have more control over health and wellness with our own behavior than do the medical centers,” Rees said. “Health care is expensive, and as a community we really should be healthier than we are.”

Rees stressed that illness prevention is the key to lowering penalties against employers and lowering health care costs.

“We envision a community based delivery system that promotes health, not health care,” Rees said.