Zero Health-care Claims Experience, Wellness Program Sets The Gazette Company Apart

Zero Health-care Claims Experience, Wellness Program Sets The Gazette Company Apart

‘Healthy employees are more productive employees,’ says manager

When The Gazette Company implemented a wellness program with its health-care insurance program, Terry Zaruba wanted to lead by example.

The wellness program features biometric screenings for employees, looking at vitals such as blood pressure, body mass index, weight and blood sugar.

Employees identified with chronic conditions have a monthly session with a health coach. Working with the employee’s doctor, the coach ensures their medication is correct and looks to get the condition under control. If the employee’s biometrics screening the next year are under control he or she moves to a less intensive coaching schedule.

Terry says when the wellness premium incentive program started she was paying more in her health insurance premium because her biometrics score wasn’t where it needed to be.

  Terry Zaruba and Maria Drees

“I wanted to lead by example to prove to people it can be done, if you make different lifestyle choices and you improve your life by making those choices then you also pay a lower premium so it’s all win-win,” she says.

The manager of benefits and payroll has certainly done that, having lost 80 pounds since beginning her weight-loss journey in 2011.

It has been a year since she’s lost the 80 pounds, and Terry has kept the weight off as she sticks to not eating sugar or wheat products and exercising 30 to 45 minutes a day five days a week.

Talking with the health coach and learning the facts about sugar made sense, says Terry. She credits with explaining to her how the liver works and the importance of not eating processed foods, wheat products and sugar.

“Anybody can do it — I was not a healthy person inside and out, and now I am. As soon as I lost 40 pounds the numbers were where they need to be and then I took the rest of it off,” says Terry.

“I love my job and I like helping people too, but you can’t force people to make any changes — the best way to do that was by example,” she says. “I have people coming up to me all the time saying you look great, what did you do, and then I share my story.”

She says it has been a personal and a corporate journey.

The Gazette Company moved to a self-funded health insurance model two years ago, which means the company pays for all the claims. The insurance company advises the rates employees should be charged and how much should be put into a trust account.

The voluntary health coaching component is a step further than many wellness programs, which started coming into favour about five years ago, notes Terry.

“Healthy employees are more productive employees and our claims will be lower,” says Terry.

The Gazette Company’s wellness program is proving to be effective, she says, as over the past two years there has been a zero claims experience, which means no rate increases for employees and a better bottom line for the company.

Approximately 450 of The Gazette Company’s 500-plus employees are eligible for a health-care plan, which requires working more than 30 hours a week. There are 287 employees currently enrolled. The plans have open enrollment, meaning employees can make changes at the beginning of the year and bring dependents onto their plan.

Wellness consultant for The Gazette Company Maria Drees of PDCM Insurance Inc., an independent insurance agency and group benefits firm, says The Gazette Company’s health program with wellness coaching is the most comprehensive type an employer can have.

“(The Gazette Company is) one of the more comprehensive programs that we have in place and they should be really proud of that,” says Maria, noting it’s a “huge benefit” to employees to have the program offered by their employer.

Having one-on-one interaction with a trained wellness coach who guides employees through behavior change or items to improve on, provides time to set goals and is an accountability factor, says Maria.

While the normal trend is that people decline in health and companies experience a correlated increase in health-care costs each year, The Gazette Company is combating that through the wellness program.

In 2009, 74 percent of The Gazette Company employees were utilizing wellness coaching due to falling into the high or moderate risk categories. This year, 42 percent of employees are using wellness coaching because they are in these categories — a decrease of 32 percent.

“It is going against the normal trend of people getting sicker and more unwell so it’s a fantastic program because of that,” says Maria.

“It’s different than a lot of other employers right now in the health-care reform environment. A lot of employers are seeing significant increases to their health insurance which is normally one of their biggest line items on their financials so to have it be close to zero for The Gazette is incredible,” she says.

In addition to personal benefits, there’s a financial benefit to employees for participating in the wellness program as those who are fully engaged receive 20 percent off their insurance premium in 2013 and will receive 30 percent off in 2014.

Ninety percent of employees enrolled in the health-care plan are on a high-deductible plan with $1,500 being the lowest deductible that an employee would pay for their medical claims in a plan year. Having high-deductible plans is one factor in the zero claims experience.

“Employees have to be good consumers of health care because they are on the hook for that first $1,500,” says Terry, noting people likely make wiser choices about spending as a result.

Employees can move pre-tax dollars out of their paychecks into a health savings account that can be used for medical expenses. The pre-tax dollars can be used to pay deductible expenses.

Terry is a member of a human resources roundtable with other Cedar Rapids employers who have experienced 15 to 69 percent increases on their health-care plans in 2014.

“We’re kind of in a class by ourselves, having a zero claims experience,” says Terry.

As changes take place due to the U.S. Affordable Care Act, some employers are looking at increased taxes in 2014. Being self-funded is a benefit because the company is not in the fully-insured market and can make its own decisions.

In fully-insured workplaces employers are noting increased charges related to the larger health marketplace, whereas in self-funded companies both the employer and employee feel that impact. The Gazette Company has been holding education meetings about the effects to their health-care plans, which include adding a $50/month spouse surcharge for spouses who have health-care insurance available elsewhere.

According to a Gallup poll earlier this month respondents ranked cost, access and obesity as the most urgent health problems currently facing the U.S.

A Sept. 19, 2013, article in Gallup Business Journal notes employee well-being has a direct impact on a company’s bottom line, as employees who are thriving in their overall well-being have 41 percent lower health-related costs compared to those who are struggling, and 62 percent lower health-related costs compared to those who are suffering.

Gallup has found that 58 percent of the U.S. workforce are in the thriving well-being category, presenting an opportunity for employers to reduce health-care related costs by increasing the well-being of all employees.

In 2014 The Gazette Company is kicking its wellness program up a notch by adding a full-time health coach. The coach will be available to employees four days a week. In addition to appointments the coach will be part of the company’s culture and help direct the wellness committee, says Maria.

“I think the availability is huge, making it more convenient for employees to have the interaction and build that relationship with the health coach,” says Maria.

Terry says through having a health coach more available the hope is to design a more employee-empowered program next year.

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Jennifer Neutel

Jennifer Neutel is a Story Advocate and Generative Journalist at Axiom News. She completed her Bachelor of Journalism at Carleton University in Ottawa in 2006, and joined Axiom News in 2007. She has taken on a variety of roles at Axiom including new social media intiatives and has a passion for creating strengths-based questions that can lead to positive change.

Contact Jennifer:, or 705-741-4421 ext. 26.

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