CAMP HILL, Pa., Oct. 31 /PRNewswire/ -- Much of today's chronic disease and disability is directly linked to lifestyle. In fact, half of the two million premature deaths that occur each year can be linked to modifiable behaviors. Unhealthy lifestyles -- smoking, poor nutrition, and lack of exercise -- are a primary reason for rising health care costs, absenteeism and lost productivity in the workplace. As companies across the country look for ways to control ever-rising health care costs among their employees and help them get and stay healthier, many are turning to company-sponsored employee wellness programs. In fact, research shows that effective employee health management significantly decreases health risks and its associated costs. Solutions to the rising costs of health care are clear and simple -- keep employees who are low to moderate risk from progressing to high risk status, by providing effective, evidence- based interventions. Return on Investment (ROI) studies indicate a potential ROI of $2 to $5 in health care costs for every dollar spent. Lifestyle Returns Outcomes, Highmark Blue Shield's latest consumer-driven program, is just one more way Highmark is helping members live longer, healthier lives. This program enhances Highmark's continued commitment to wellness and its consumerism strategy. Consumerism is the demand for information that helps members take more responsibility and make more educated health care decisions. Highmark's original Lifestyle Returns program was created in 2005, and has now developed the Lifestyle Returns Outcomes Program. Members earn points toward employer-set rewards by participating in the program, reaching defined progress, and achieving target health goals. "Employers and employees are taking a more active role in health care," said Robert Muscalus, DO, medical director at Highmark Blue Shield. "Highmark Blue Shield is taking a multi-faceted approach, built around incentives, to help our members make the right lifestyle choices and get the right medical care." Lifestyle Returns Outcomes specifics The program begins with an online pledge at the Highmark member Web site. Employees promise to be more involved in their health by taking a comprehensive self-health evaluation. They then complete a personal online health profile, and based on the results, will generate an individual Wellness Profile Report for better health. Recommendations may include participating in lifestyle improvement programs through worksite health promotion classes, online programs, or wellness programs offered through Highmark's community network at local YMCAs and hospitals. In addition to the pledge and profile, the program encourages members to receive preventive exams applicable to their age and gender and participate in activities. It also encourages members to receive worksite health screenings for the following key health status measures: LDL cholesterol, systolic blood pressure, Body Mass Index, tobacco use, and an HbA1C screen for self-identified diabetics. Each of these screenings has a target health goal based on medical standards and personal health data provided in the Wellness Profile. Participants who are unable to meet goals due to a medical condition, or if it is medically inadvisable to attempt to satisfy the goals, are offered reasonable alternatives to earn points. "The merits of preventive exams and health screenings are clear," said Muscalus. "Annual exams and health screenings can help members stay on top of their health, better manage illnesses, and even save lives through early detection of serious diseases. By making health care information available by phone, online, at the worksite and in the community, Highmark is striving to provide relevant information that will allow consumers to make more informed health care decisions." Employers provide rewards or incentives to promote employee participation and to complete the Lifestyle Returns program. Some employers offer a cash reward, a contribution toward employees' health savings account, a reduction in employee health coverage contributions, or offer higher level of benefits. "The Lifestyle Returns Outcomes Program is critical in the evolution of Highmark's Lifestyle Returns and consumerism programs," said Muscalus. "The screenings help to identify health issues and areas in need of improvement, making participants more involved and educated health care consumers. Highmark has more than 30 programs and initiatives available that can be tailored to help change lifestyles towards better health -- a reward that lasts a lifetime." About Highmark Blue Shield As one of the state's leading health insurers and with nearly 70 years of community involvement, Highmark Blue Shield helps members live longer, healthier lives by ensuring access to affordable, high quality health insurance and services. Highmark offers the widest range of products, access to all area hospitals and the most responsive customer service. Highmark exerts an enormous economic impact throughout Pennsylvania. A recent study states that Highmark's positive impact exceeded $2.5 billion. Employing more than 5,000 people in central Pennsylvania and the Lehigh Valley, Highmark provides the resources to give its members a greater hand in their health. Highmark Blue Shield is an independent licensee of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association, an association of independent Blue Cross and Blue Shield Plans. For more information about Highmark Blue Shield, visit www.highmark.com.
SOURCE Highmark Blue Shield