Cityscape — March 2014
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Iowa has set a goal of becoming the healthiest state by the year 2016. Healthier residents lead to a healthier workforce. A healthier workforce impacts the bottom line of not only businesses, but local governments as well. Due to the potential positive impact, it makes sense for cities to engage in a wellness initiative for their employees.

The health of an employee impacts their employer and the employee in many ways. Potential benefits for the employee include improved health and overall quality of life. A healthy employee may see fewer out-of-pocket expenses for physician office visits and medications. Their employer may experience increased production, reduced absenteeism and an overall happier and engaged workforce. Conversely, an unhealthy employee may negatively impact the workplace with decreased production, additional costs to back fill their position when they are absent, and the additional expense incurred to provide health insurance.

From a health insurance perspective, obesity, type II diabetes, hypertension and smoking are areas of great concern. Each of these can lead to increased medical treatment, which leads to increased health insurance premiums. These factors are also a major concern from the workers’ compensation perspective. Each of these affects the injured workers’ ability to heal and prolongs the recovery period. In addition to a prolonged healing period, each of these increases the likelihood of secondary complications. A Duke University study found that obese workers filed twice as many workers’ compensation claims. The medical costs for those obese workers filing claims were seven times higher than injured workers who were not obese. The injured workers in the obese category lost 13 times more days of work than did non-obese workers. The higher cost of these claims is reflected in the employer’s experience modification factor, which drives up the cost of the workers’ compensation coverage.

The goal of implementing a wellness program is to help employees get healthier. This is accomplished by assisting the employee in making voluntary behavior changes. Obesity, type II diabetes, hypertension and smoking can all be positively impacted by impacting the employee’s behavior. Having healthier employees should lead to lower absenteeism and less sick time, faster return to work on injured workers, lower medical and insurance costs, improved productivity and increased morale and job satisfaction.

Setting an example and role modeling is a powerful way to impact change. The Iowa League of Cities, administrators of the Iowa Municipalities Workers’ Compensation Association, is currently in their first group effort to impact a positive change for staff in health and wellness. Twenty of the League’s 30 staff members have voluntarily signed up to participate in Live Healthy Iowa. Each team of four has selected a team captain and each individual set goals to make a positive change in their personal health. Goals range from the amount of time spent in physical activity and exercise to weight loss. We are in the beginning stages of the program, however early indications show people are seeing positive results and having some fun along the way.

The process of implementing a wellness initiative will vary depending on your resources and level of enthusiasm; however the most important step is the first one. The Internet can provide a wealth of information to assist you in getting started. One Web site to visit is www.iowahealthieststate.com. This site was created to help Iowa achieve its goal of becoming the healthiest state by 2016.

Director of Risk Services Jeff Hovey
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