A new wellness program offered to Summit County employees will challenge them to shape up.
The pay off will not only promote better health habits, but could reduce out of pocket expenses.
Employees can engage in healthy activities and earn points that convert into dollars.
“The program is called Vitality and it’s an online web-based wellness program that tracts wellness activities,” said Wendy Weaver, head of employee benefits for the county. “It’s almost like a frequent fliers program, you accumulate points to certain levels and then when you get to those levels you earn dollars that will go on a debit card and you can use them to pay for qualified health care, such as office visits, prescription co-pays and deductibles on dental expenses.”
About 2,200 people — employees and their spouses — are eligible to participate.
Participants can enroll anytime, but Weaver said the longer they wait the more opportunities they miss to earn points.
She likened the debit card to the same type of expenses you can use the debit card for on the flexible spending account program where employees put their own money aside before taxes.
“Employees can earn points for doing things like getting a physical done, biometric screenings [cholesterol and glucose level checks and blood pressure checks], if they are in a healthy range they get points for that,” she said. “If they aren’t in a healthy range the Vitality program establishes goals for you and helps you on how you can get those levels into a healthy range so that you will be able to earn points. That’s where the incentive comes in to get our workforce healthier.”
The program has physical fitness activities as well as prevention programs such as health screening and flu shots. There is also some healthy living activities with online nutrition courses and office lunchtime seminars on topics like eating healthy on a budget.
“Everything has to be documented so there’s no self-reporting. If someone goes to the gym there has to be a printout from the gym showing the days they attended or can verify their activities by having an instructor sign off on their form,” Weaver said. “Basically there is a form for everything, someone can’t submit their own blood pressure. It has to come from a verified source, a physician’s documentation or from a health fair.”
Another way employees can track activities is if they have some sort of device that syncs with the Vitality program. Earlier this month county council approved the purchase of the FitBit zip and flex pedometers for about $17,780 that will help keep track of activity as well as sleep patterns.
Weaver said the devices weren’t purchased for the employees, but are available for employees to purchase at a discount. She said the FitBit zip devices normally sell for $59 and employees will be able to purchase them for $33 and the flex pedometers usually sell for $100 but employees can buy them for $60.
“We didn’t buy them for our employees, we just purchased them so that they could purchase them from the county at a discount,” Weaver said. “We are also using some of our wellness dollars from Medical Mutual to offset some of those costs.”
Weaver said she is already getting positive feedback from employees.
Councilman Tim Crawford, District 7, signed up for the program online and said you can go as far as you want to in managing your health. He purchased the FitBit zip, a wrist device to track his movement. He gets updates on his progress by email.
“With all we’re doing with wellness, this is beneficial for all employees. It just makes you more aware of whether you are living a healthy lifestyle and getting your body mass index under control,” he said referring to the web page. “I thought I was taking more steps during the day than I actually am. I learned I was walking only half as much as I should.”
To make up for it, Crawford said he plans to take the stairs more often, park further away from the office and just walk more.
“The program does give you the benefit of reducing your deductible, but my biggest thing is it’s making me more aware of things like my pulse rate, my blood pressure and how many steps I really do take a day,” Crawford said.
County Councilwoman-at-Large Sandra Kurt said she plans to sign up for the program.
“I think that any time you can give employees a monetary incentive to do things that will improve their health, it is a good thing,” she said.
Crawford said he discovered a possible glitch with the program’s technology while doing some recent volunteer work.
“I rang the Salvation Army bell for five hours and got 14,000 steps registered on the device and never left the kettle,” Crawford said. “I was being active I guess, but not really gaining steps. It started beeping as if in a panic that I ran five miles, but I was just manning the kettle.”
Marilyn Miller can be reached at 330-996-3098 or firstname.lastname@example.org.