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March 22, 2007

Incentives for health screenings to be offered in FY08

Pitt employees who belong to the UPMC Health Plan will be rewarded again for taking health screening and assessments during the next plan year, which begins July 1.

Pitt is renewing the incentive due to the success of last year’s program, according to John Kozar, Pitt director of Benefits.

But the incentive offered under Pitt’s fitness for life program will be different from last year’s “premium holiday,” which provided a month’s waiver of health insurance premiums, Kozar said.

Pitt’s Human Resources and UPMC Health Plan officials are working out the details, Kozar said, but the likelihood is that those who complete an online health risk assessment (HRA) in addition to a health screening, will receive a $50 gift certificate for merchants to be determined.

“One thing we wanted to improve with our incentive is to have a more immediate reward, and a more tangible one,” he said.

UPMC Health Plan only releases to the University aggregated data on health information, which plan officials shared with the University Times this week. All individual data are kept strictly confidential, Kozar stressed.

The biometric screenings required for the premium holiday last year measured glucose (blood sugar), cholesterol (both HDL/“good” and LDL/“bad” levels) and blood pressure to see if participants were at risk for diabetes, hyperlipidemia or hypertension.

Overall, according to the health plan data, among the 16,959 eligible plan participants (12,040 employees and 4,919 spouses/partners), 9,073 (53.5 percent) completed the biometric screening.

Pamela Peele, UPMC Health Plan vice president, health economics, presented a brief analysis of the screening data. Sshe explained that the total number of participants included all Pitt employees and spouses/partners who were eligible at any point during the screening timeframe (July 1, 2005-March 31, 2006).

Kozar said the current number of enrolled adult health plan members at Pitt is 13,648, which does not include changes in the employment ranks due to employee turnover during the screening period. Using that latter figure, 66 percent of eligible members participated in the health screening, he noted. “Both figures are legitimate, just a different way of looking at things,” he said.

Kozar said that the total cost to the University of last July’s premium holiday was about $650,000.

Those with individual coverage in Panther Gold (the most popular plan option) earned a $47 premium credit, while those with family coverage in that option earned a $247 discount, he added.

“We knew upfront this was a short-term investment for a long-term gain,” Kozar said. “You start with creating awareness, getting everybody to know what their numbers are. You can’t manage what you can’t measure. The long-term goal is to stem the escalation of health care costs. If we can slow down the utilization and keep the workforce healthier and happier, we’re going to be far better off in the long term.”

Peele said aggregate results of the data show that of the 9,073 members who participated in the screening:

• 903 participants (10 percent) were found to be at risk for diabetes.

• 2,002 participants (22 percent) were at risk for hyperlipidemia.

• 1,537 participants (17 percent) were at risk for hypertension.

Peele’s analysis of the data concluded that:

• Those with family coverage were much more likely to participate.

• Those whose premium savings were $100 or more, were twice as likely to participate than those below that amount.

• Those under 36 years of age were 60 percent less likely, and those age 55 or older were 95 percent more likely to complete the biometric screening than those aged 36-55.

Last year, an online health risk assessment (HRA) also was available, but not mandatory to receive the premium holiday.

Because of the disappointing 9 percent participation rate in the online assessment, Pitt plan members in FY08 will be required to complete the online risk assessment in addition to the screening in order to qualify for the $50 reward, Kozar said.

The HRA is based on family history, age, gender, weight and height, and lifestyle factors.

“It’s a very good educational tool,” said Rose Gantner of UPMC Health Plan. “When they do the HRA they get a comprehensive customized report that goes over each of their risks and provides a one-page physician’s summary that they can share with their physician.”

Peele said that aggregate results of the HRA revealed about 75 percent of the detected risk factors were lifestyle modifiable factors, rather than genetic conditions.

The online health risk assessment is being revamped and expanded to cover more conditions and to derive more health data, health plan officials noted.

Also new for the coming plan year, the University will pick up the tab for designated on-campus UPMC Health Plan weight management and smoking cessation programs for health plan members, Kozar said.

Pitt also is planning a “great weight race,” modeled after UPMC Health Plan’s 12-week pilot program, which divided employees into 100 five-member teams. “We’re now in our sixth week, and the total loss has been about 2,700 pounds,” Gantner said. Prizes will be awarded to winning teams and to individuals who have the highest percentage weight loss, she added.

Kozar said the weight race will be introduced on the Pittsburgh campus this spring and be expanded to the regional campuses in the fall.

He said the fitness for life program’s primary goal for FY08 is to turn health plan members’ awareness into action, especially where lifestyle modifications are recommended.

Some Pitt employees have been vocal about the value of the health screenings.

Lori Moore, a cash control specialist at the Greensburg campus, told the University Times that last year’s screenings changed her life.

“Being still in my 30s, I didn’t feel concerned about my health too much,” Moore said. “I was only calling my doctor when something was wrong — not getting an annual check-up. I went to do the screenings because of the incentive, and saw I had a high cholesterol number.”

So, Moore joined a gym and started reading up on dietary changes that would help her condition. “But within a month of my screening, my doctor called me and said, ‘I want to see you.’ I thought, ‘Uh- oh, it must really be bad.’ That really woke me up.”

Moore discussed the situation with her doctor, who gave her six months to make improvement before beginning medication.

“I took [my regimen] very seriously,” Moore said. “When I went back to see her, my cholesterol levels were down and I had lost 30 pounds. I’m very pleased, I feel much better about myself and I owe it all to the screening.”

Steve Zupcic, of Community Relations, said he formerly had exercised regularly, but his osteoarthritis was making it too painful to do so. As a result, he gained a lot of weight, he said. At 58, he was facing knee-replacement surgery and was taking expensive prescription drugs for arthritis.

Zupcic’s screening showed very high cholesterol levels, and he was directed by UPMC Health Plan personnel to a two-year weight-loss study that began last summer.

“I learned that for every pound in the body, it puts five pounds of pressure on the knees,” Zupcic said. “I also learned that I was eating enormous amounts of high-fat foods. So, I thought: My gluttony is costing other Pitt employees money, because we share in health insurance costs.”

Zupcic began modifying his behavior under the guidance of the weight loss study, and the results, including losing more than 30 pounds, amaze him, he said.

“I joined the study in August, and already my cholesterol level is well within the normal range and I’ve virtually stopped needing my prescription, cutting it way back. I also don’t need the injections like cortisone that I needed for pain in my knees,” he said.

“Any employee who chooses not see the value in these screenings is tragically misinformed. They promote health, save money and make for more productive lives and productive workers.”

Another staff member, who asked not to be named, also praised the screenings.

Still in his 20s, the staff member had family history of high cholesterol but wasn’t concerned because he had no symptoms. “I wouldn’t have gone to the screenings, except for the incentive,” he said. “I found out my cholesterol was over 300. I went to my doctor and we worked out a plan to change some things. He gave me advice on exercise and dietary changes, and gave me a prescription medication.”

Now his cholesterol is under control. “I just think it’s so valuable to take advantage of these screenings. I would advise anyone to do it, no matter your age or how you’re feeling,” he said.

—Peter Hart

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