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General Lock creates a wellness culture

The last several benefit renewals leading up to 2008 felt like Groundhog Day each time for the General Lock & Clark Security Products executives. Faced with double-digit medical premium increases and little or no utilization information, the only options in offsetting some of the additional expense to the company were increasing co-pays, reducing benefits and increasing payroll deductions.

This cycle was not sustainable for General Lock, a national security products manufacturer, or its more than 300 employees. It was time to get off of this ride and take control of one of the company's top expenses. Marshall Merrifield, chief executive officer, and the General Lock leadership team geared up for the challenge.

The first step was to search for a broker who was willing to provide "out of the box" solutions and could work the health care supply chain more aggressively. That search resulted in a partnership with Mike Barone and his team at Intercare Insurance Solutions. Out of this joint venture a customized two-prong program was developed that integrated wellness with health care. The program included data gathering to understand the population's health and readiness to change, providing the tools and resources to improve or maintain employees' and their families' health. The desired outcomes were to control premium costs and ensure a healthy, productive work force.

To get utilization data, General Lock moved its major medical program to a self-insurance platform. These reports provided information to help General Lock leadership make informed decisions regarding plan design and wellness education topics.

General Lock also asked its population to complete a confidential health assessment. The aggregate data provided another layer of information to help the leadership team in the decision making. Participants received a personalized report that increased awareness about their health and provided objective feedback on what they were doing well and steps they could take to improve their health.

The General Lock team also tore down old perceptions of cost control such as increasing co-pays. Instead, the company adopted new concepts that removed barriers to allow participants access to care earlier, rather than waiting until medical conditions became so severe that they needed more costly care. The new program also encouraged participants who were diagnosed with asthma, diabetes or hypertension to comply with their prescribed drug regiment by reducing the cost of prescriptions for these chronic conditions to the lowest co-pay level.

General Lock is moving into its third year under this program and each year provides exciting results. The first year the health assessment was implemented, employees who had never thought about their health were coming forward with stories about what they had learned. One employee shared that he had been diagnosed with thyroid cancer and because it was detected early, the prognosis was complete remission.

Through education and awareness, the second year's assessment results showed a drop in the collective group's blood pressure, cholesterol, triglycerides, body mass index, percentage body fat and waist measurement. The population's coronary risk dropped, they were sleeping better, coping better, were happier and had fewer sick days compared with the previous year. Although the final results aren't in yet for the third health assessment, early results indicate the highest participation (67 percent) and improved employee engagement level. Insurance premiums went up 9 percent this year (instead of 23 percent) and the company's long-term disability premium was reduced 13 percent.

General Lock's journey will continue to be a challenge as it contends with a super-sized society. However, the company is committed to providing its employees and their families with value-added benefits, along with the resources and information to make informed choices to lead a healthy lifestyle at work and elsewhere.

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