Beginning this year, Nena Beesinger of Dallas gets a discount on her health benefits because she worked hard in 2004 to lower her blood pressure.
DALLAS — Beginning this year, Nena Beesinger of Dallas gets a discount on her health benefits because she worked hard in 2004 to lower her blood pressure.
The 52-year-old cash manager at Presbyterian Hospital of Dallas is part of an unusual program that Texas Health Resources offers its 17,000 employees to promote healthful living and help manage chronic conditions.
In the past year, employees in the “Be Healthy THR” program have earned credits they can apply to the cost of their benefits.
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They began reaping the financial rewards when the first of their 2005 paychecks arrived.
Beesinger got her points by eating fruits and vegetables, attending workshops on nutrition and fitness, and joining a dance-exercise class. For her efforts, she saves $5 on her benefit costs every two weeks.
Texas Health Resources, which operates 13 nonprofit hospitals in North Texas, built a financial incentive into its employee-wellness program to encourage workers to take more responsibility for their health.
“We were seeing annual increases of 16 to 21 percent in our health-care costs, and we simply couldn’t allow that to continue,” said Bonnie Bell, executive vice president of people and culture at the Arlington-based nonprofit.
Nationally, employers’ health-care costs are expected to rise 11.3 percent for 2005, reaching an estimated $7,269 a worker and $11,000 a family, according to Hewitt Associates, a human-resources consulting firm.
Many employers have coped with double-digit increases in health-care expenses by absorbing some costs themselves and passing on the rest to employees.
But those approaches can do only so much because they don’t deal with the underlying health problems, said Paul Fronstin, director of health research and education at the Employee Benefit Research Institute. So more employers are looking for ways to prompt workers to take better care of themselves, and some are turning to financial rewards for employees who join fitness clubs or stop smoking, Fronstin said.
Human-resources experts said Texas Health Resources’ program is far more comprehensive than most reward programs.
During the program’s first year, 4,500, or 31 percent, of Texas Health Resources’ employees participated, said Michelle Kirby, vice president of people and culture. More than 2,000 earned enough credits to get a break on their 2005 benefit costs, she said.