Last week, Meritain Health, a provider of self-funded health and wellness plans, found that 89% of participants had improved blood pressure and 77% had reduced LDL cholesterol.

As part of its 2010 Worksite Screening Study, the fifth anniversary of the report, they also found 70% reduced high triglyceride levels and 62% improved glucose levels.

"We've gotten to a place now that it's not just about knowing your numbers, it's about moving them," says Dr. Larry Luter, chief medical officer of Meritain Health, an Aetna company. He says that as they've started seeing results, "it absolutely impacts employee morale because people begin to feel better. They'll actually walk to talk to someone instead of shooting an email." He added that as more companies shift to high-deductible health plans, employees are seeing health care costs skyrocket and, "if you don't want to spend money, preventive care really works."

A large part of the Healthy Merits program involves that preventive care, from the health risk assessment and biometric screenings to follow-up care. The program pairs both in-house screenings and health seminars with telephonic health coaching. "When you offer just a web-based program, it's not going to get it done because it's not targeted enough,” Luter says. “When people see and can connect their diet and lack of exercise with what they've now developed, then you can make change."

The program includes basic things like flu shots, optional nicotine screenings and dental and vision exams, but such simple things have seen results, which may be the first step in alleviating the obesity epidemic. He already sees companies going beyond wellness programs to implementing healthier cafeteria options and gym memberships. Thirty-six percent of participating employees out of 22,176 members from had actively taken steps to improve their health. Luter says it takes buy-in from top leadership to change the behavioral actions of employees.

"Chief financial officers have waited and depended on seeing an ROI to go with it; they want immediacy, but that's not a reason to not do this," he says, but he also notes that in the past few years he's seen an uptick of employers going to wellness programs for their health care solutions. "When we first started many of the CEOs weren't yet on board, but now people are realizing that unless they get aggressive they won't control the costs."

He continues: "This is necessary to control costs. If you don't believe in wellness, if you continue to manage the health plan the way you've always done it, in the reactive way, you can expect the kinds of double digit increases year after year," he says. "The reason we've struggled with costs is because we haven't prevented anything. If we manage the risk before we get to that point, we'll prevent those diseases.”

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