Workplace Wellness

In his second event of the week aimed at promoting health care reform, President Obama is spotlighting workplace wellness programs Tuesday at the White House.
A day after winning a pledge from the health care industry to slow the rise in costs, Mr. Obama is meeting with CEOs, corporate benefits officers, union leaders and state and local health officials to talk about ways to improve worker fitness and reduce absenteeism.
The businesses highlighted by the White House include supermarket company Safeway which provides insurance discounts for workers who quit smoking, lower their weight and control their blood pressure and cholesterol. The company has reduced its health care spending by 13% and workers have cut their insurance premiums by 20%. Other companies mentioned by the White House have a far more aggressive approach to improving the workplace. Microsoft has a staff of doctors that makes house calls to avoid emergency room visits. And the company also provide free meals consistent with diet recommendations to eat on site or take home. Microsoft is listed on Fortune Magazine's 100 Best Places to Work.
Another company on the Fortune list is REI, which encourages employees to get outdoors, participate in aerobic activity by providing equipment support to their workers, and gives discounts and time off to workers who engage in 'good behaviors.'
Health officials say wellness programs improve worker productivity and reduce chronic diseases and thereby reduce health care costs. Higher insurance costs are pushing employers to either raise the amount their workers pay or cancel the insurance altogether. In 2001 59% of US employers offered company paid insurance. By last year that figure had fallen to 55%.