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AARP Wyoming, April 23, 2010
Wellness programs have gained popularity as a way to encourage people to lead healthier lives, including eating better, exercising and using preventative medicine. For businesses that provide insurance, such programs can control health care costs and keep employees healthy.
State-sponsored wellness programs, too, have proven successful by providing health information and incentives to those whose insurance is subsidized, in part, by the state.
Healthy Together is a program through the Wyoming Department of Health that launched in 2004. It is open to those enrolled in Wyoming EqualityCare — the state’s federal-state Medicaid program for lower-income people, though it focuses on patients with chronic illnesses and pregnant women, said Dr. James Bush, state Medicaid medical officer.
From a fiscal standpoint, for every dollar Wyoming spends, the Department of Health sees $4.82 in cost avoidance, Bush said. But the program’s success is calculated also by its popularity and use. Member satisfaction was 96 percent and Medicaid providers had a 97 percent satisfaction rate, Bush said.
The program has many different aspects, including patient outreach, wellness and prevention activities, and medical support and planning for people with complex illnesses.
Wellness programs don’t focus solely on illness prevention, but help patients get better more quickly for a sustained period of time. Recovery or living with a chronic problem can be complicated, involving numerous doctors and multiple regiments. Healthy Together provides special support for these people, Bush said.
“Health Coaches coordinate care with members’ respective health care providers and reinforce information and treatment plans provided by those providers,” Bush said.
State employees can enroll in Healthier Wyoming, which has been in place for a little more than a year. It gives participants a discount on insurance premium costs if they complete activity programs and visit their doctors for check-ups. More than 4,300 state employees had completed the requirements, said Wendy Curran, a spokeswoman for Gov. Dave Freudenthal.
While it’s too soon to know the program’s monetary return on investment, Curran said more people are getting wellness exams, screenings and generally improving their lifestyles.
“More people are seeing their doctors, doing very simple things to live healthier, and learning about their personal health risks,” Curran said. “We’re investing in our employees, but we’re saving money too.”
A nonprofit established last year has a slightly different take on how to control health care costs. The Wyoming Business Coalition on Health, which began last year, seeks to bring together many different businesses that will address health care issues with a unified voice, said Anne Ladd, executive director.
“We’re buying blind in health care right now,” Ladd said. “This is going to have to be a collaborative effort between the business community and the health care delivery system.”
When the organization hits its stride, Ladd envisions it will compel health care providers—such as hospitals and doctors—to be more transparent in what patients can expect when they seek medical attention.
So far, the coalition represents about 12,000 people. Among its members are Arch Coal, Peabody Energy, Natrona County School District, the City of Casper and the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle.
The first step toward that goal will be Project SPUR, a program that businesses can enroll in to provide their employees with chronic illnesses a coach to help improve their wellness and cut down on their medical costs. Ladd said she expects as many as four businesses to begin coaching next year.
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