What CMU found when it analyzed its wellness program

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In the course of performing an ROI review of its wellness program for its 1,000 faculty and staff, Central Michigan University found that its efforts with wellness provider Virgin Pulse reduced participants’ overall BMI, blood pressure levels and medical expenses. It’s a good, if expected result. Not as expected was the fact that wellness program participants were more likely to be promoted than were non-participants.

“Around 4% of non-members were promoted in the last two years, and 9.7% who were part of the plan were promoted,” Tammy Griffin, manager of employee health & wellness at CMU, explained last week at EBN’s Benefits Forum & Expo in Boca Raton, Fla., adding that it was a pleasant surprise of the findings.

At the urging of the college’s vice president, CMU’s wellness team conducted a data analysis of its program’s performance and results, Griffin explained. Although CMU began its wellness program in 1999 with modest goals, it only looked at data from 2014 to 2016, when the university hired Virgin Pulse as its wellness program provider.

“We worked with the Virgin Pulse measurement framework and looked at medical costs and prescription drug claims, but we also looked at workers’ compensation data, injury data, retention data — anything we can get to look at how it impacted employee performance,” she said.

CMU’s wellness program with Virgin Pulse commenced in July 2014 with 90% engagement among participants, but that number has since dipped to around 70%. Enrollment has stayed fairly steady at around 65%. This is high compared to Virgin Pulse’s average enrollment among clients, which averages at around 50%, according to Griffin.

The wellness program focuses on getting CMU employees to watch their diets and to walk more throughout the day. The data found that new participants who started the program with fewer than 5,000 daily steps saw their rate rise to 7,000 daily steps after two years. In that time, participants’ average BMI decreased from around 31 to roughly 28.

The data analysis also tracked friendships across campus and how that impacted wellness participation and enrollment. If a staffer had a friend who was also in the wellness program, they had a higher participation rate. “We hope to ID well-connected people on campus, because we all know from data how friendship moves us in our lives,” Griffin said.

In terms of wellness participants and their healthcare expenses, Griffin and her team found that benefits costs correlate to membership activity. “The paid medical costs among [wellness program] members were 11% less on average — $8,648 for non-members versus $7,729 for members,” she said.

CMU found good participation among women and younger male staffers, but the number of middle-aged men who participated in the program began to dry up. “Engagement among men over 40 falls off. This is an opportunity for targeting and engagement strategy,” said Griffin.

CMU also found that the steps program to inspire participants to leave their offices and walk around the campus dropped off in the colder Michigan months. “The numbers for people taking steps shoot up in July and September but dip in mid-October and November,” Griffin said.

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Wellness programs Wellness Benefit management Healthcare benefits Voluntary benefits Retirement benefits Benefit strategies