Recognizing that chronic illness accounts for 75 percent of healthcare spending, many employers are taking a hands-on approach to improving employee health and wellness by promoting programs that address smoking, obesity and disease prevention and management.

At a press briefing July 15 hosted by the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association (BCBSA), representatives from Food Lion LLC, DTE Energy and the National Business Group on Health (NBGH) discussed employee engagement in workplace wellness programs that drive healthier behaviors and control costs.

In conjunction with the briefing, BCBSA also released a new report, “Engaging Consumers @ Work” (EC@W), that found workplace education and activation programs can increase worker participation in wellness programs by 21 percent or more – suggesting big dividends for employers who invest in these programs.

“Employers are drivers of innovation,” said Scott P. Serota, BCBSA president and CEO. “More than 160 million people get their health coverage through their job and Blue Cross and Blue Shield companies are collaborating with employers across the country to help them achieve their goal of a healthy workforce. Employers play a critical role in employee wellness and they have been aggressive in developing innovative ways to improve quality, reduce costs and keep employees healthy.”

At the press briefing, Pat Fulcher, vice president of associate services for Food Lion, described the collaboration with Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina in the EC@W initiative, a successful workplace walking program that evaluated its impact on worker engagement. She also discussed Food Lion’s innovative workplace wellness initiatives that include nutritional counseling, mammograms, flu shots and smoking cessation resources.

“Decreasing illness and increasing productivity are integral to maintaining and attracting a skilled workforce,” said Fulcher. “Food Lion is committed to offering a robust benefit package and being a resource for our employees. As an employer, we feel it is our responsibility to educate our associates on the many wellness resources available to them to encourage a healthier lifestyle.”

Richard Lueders, director of compensation and benefits for DTE Energy in Detroit, Mich., discussed his company’s disease management initiatives and participation in the Blue Care Network of Michigan’s Healthy Blue Living(SM) program, which rewards members who pursue health goals with enhanced benefits at lower costs. Over a 3-year period, DTE’s disease management programs resulted in savings of more than $2.2 million in reduction in work days missed.

“We are committed to creating a workplace that supports employee health and wellness,” said Lueders. “Implementing wellness programs, including the Healthy Blue Living Program, has successfully increased productivity and reduced costs. It’s a win-win partnership.”

Helen Darling, NBGH president, discussed findings from their recent survey of what employees want from employers in terms of health improvement. According to the NBGH survey, 80 percent of employees felt that employers should be involved in providing healthcare information to employees and 66 percent of employees support having discounts or rewards for those who have healthy lifestyles.

“Employers are putting a much higher priority on wellness and lifestyle improvement programs than ever before,” said Darling. “Employers understand that investment in health and productivity is good for their employees and families, as well as good for business.”