No Kidding Around on Wellness

October 18, 2011
10:59 am

This past Sunday, Ezra Klein had a fascinating piece on the Washington Post website regarding the Cleveland Clinic (a Healthcare Leadership Council member) and its efforts to achieve a higher degree of wellness within its workforce.

In Cleveland, Clinic CEO Delos Cosgrove has essentially declared war against preventable chronic disease.  Smoking is completely banned anywhere on the campus (and, in fact, physicians have been fired for violating this prohibition), deep fryers and sugared sodas have been removed from the Clinic premises, and Clinic employees pay higher health insurance premiums if they don’t take part in some form of fitness or stress management classes.  Employees’ health conditions – blood pressure, blood sugar, weight and other measurable – are monitored to make sure they are being proactive in improving their health.

The results, as Klein writes, are indisputable.  The Clinic has reduced its employee healthcare costs.  Smoking rates and blood pressure are way down.  Employees have lost a collective 125 tons of weight since 2005.

There will undoubtedly be disagreements over whether the Clinic’s tough love approach is an appropriate policy.  And if the same policies were brought to a large non-healthcare workforce like a General Motors or a Xerox, one could even project that there would be charges of discrimation against smokers, the obese and people who just happen to love a Wendy’s Baconator.

But this is a conversation that America needs to have.  At the same time in which policymakers are debating whether to cut reimbursement levels in the Medicare program, affecting access to quality care and medical innovation, there are billions of dollars being spent to treat cases of diabetes, heart disease, pulmonary illness and other conditions that are caused or exacerbated by lifestyle choices.

Employees and healthcare providers throughout the country are developing innovative ways to strengthen wellness and prevent chronic disease.  We’ve chronicled many of the very effective ones in the HLC Wellness Compendium.

If the Cleveland Clinic’s aggressive methods on employee wellness stir a widespread debate, that’s a very good thing.  The Center for Disease Control and Prevention projects that one of every three Americans will have diabetes by the year 2050.  If that occurs, today’s healthcare cost concerns will seem like child’s play compared to what we’ll be facing later this century.  Wellness has to become a national priority.

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