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8th Annual Alla tua Salute! Awards


Wellness-rounded plastics manufacturer modifies behaviors in its workforce

Story by Sean Fitzgerald, New North B2B publisher

Information is the key toward making a lot of projects successful, both in business and in our personal lives.

We’ve been beating that drum relative to employer-based wellness programs for the past eight years New North B2B magazine has conducted its Alla tua Salute! corporate wellness awards. In fact, wellness program communications between company and employees is among the select criteria used by our panel in judging the wellness program nominations received each year for Alla tua Salute!

Admittedly, though, efforts to share information about wellness program results to employees has often taken a back seat to innovative amenities and unique incentives when our panel combs through the nominations we receive each year.

In 2013, our Alla tua Salute! award winner figuratively knocked the socks off of our panel of employer group health insurance experts relative to the information it provides employees about their own health, how their health has improved as a group, and how small changes in health care utilization helped improve the bottom line, both for the company as well as out of employees’ own family piggy banks.

In addition, this manufacturing firm extends meaningful wellness offers to its staff through rebates toward their individual health insurance premiums, has changed unhealthy behaviors over time and did so with a good deal of fun along the way.

N.E.W. Plastics Corp. of Luxemburg initially contracted to have an on-site occupational health nurse schedule regular weekly hours at its 195-employee facility back in 2005, but it wasn’t until the company began providing health risk assessments and the addition of an on-site health coach a few years later that it began to see results. Since 2008 the company has better managed its group health plan increases to the point of maintaining flat rates from 2011 to 2012. It’s lowered its prescription drug cost per employee by nearly 55 percent during the past five years, and dropped its claims-to-premium ratio to historic low levels.

For its exceptional performance in corporate wellness programming, New North B2B awards N.E.W. Plastics its 8th Annual Alla tua Salute! Award for Leadership in Wellness.

“I think their stuff is awesome,” noted David Brand, an employee benefits specialist with Valley Insurance Associate’s Oshkosh office and one of the veteran panelists for our Alla tua Salute! awards. “There are lessons from N.E.W. Plastics that a lot of companies could learn from. In fact, there are lessons that a lot of (health insurance) carriers could learn from as well.”

A winning proposition

Prior to 2008, N.E.W. Plastics experienced a 25 percent year-to-year increase on its group health insurance premiums. The custom plastic injection blow molding manufacturer of packaging containers and components offered what N.E.W. Plastics Senior Human Resource Leader Thomas Schultz called a “Red Apple” plan – a rich benefits plan with premiums completely covered by the company and a 90/10 copayment arrangement for employees. Not bad for employees, but unsustainable from the company’s perspective as medical costs skyrocketed and its workforce was gradually becoming older and unhealthier.

What’s worse, there was little to no incentive for employees to lead healthy lifestyles with the knowledge that a Cadillac insurance plan was waiting for them when they became sick.

“Obviously, an unhealthy workforce costs us in many ways throughout the company,” said N.E.W. Plastics President and CEO Mike Rekitzke.

The company began making annual health risk assessments available to its employees in 2009. A tool for measuring and tracking progress in a variety of individual health metrics, N.E.W. Plastics has demonstrated discernable improvements in its group HRA results in each of the four years since they’ve been tracked. The number of employees registering as a low health risk climbed from 21 percent up to 37 percent of its workforce, while the employees in the medium-risk range fell from 52 to 42 percent over the same period of time. The number registering a high risk for chronic health conditions dropped from 27 to 21 percent of the workforce over four years.

Employees aren’t required to take the annual HRA, but those who don’t are not eligible to earn up to a 10 percent rebate on their health insurance premiums – an attractive incentive after N.E.W. Plastics began modifying its insurance benefits plan. From a time when deductibles were as little as $250, plan options now come with either a $2,500 or $5,000 deductible. Throughout these plan changes, employees received a flowing stream of information through relevant benefits meetings and newsletters provided on all three shifts and for employees in the office as well as in the plant.

“Our feeling as an employer is that we can’t necessarily force our employees to get healthy, but we can provide tools and information to help them make the kind of improvements to their health we hope they make,” Rekitzke said.

Staying healthy

SO How did N.E.W Plastics employees improve their health as indicated by the improvements in its cumulative health risk assessment scores?

According to Schultz, the company began offering the services of an on-site health coach back in 2009 who works individually with employees every three to six months to provide direction, support and accountability toward the health improvements the employee intends to make. Employees can even schedule an appointment during their shift, getting paid for the time spent with the health coach.

Additionally, N.E.W. Plastics implemented MyInertia, a step/activity monitoring program that uses a pedometer device to track and digitally record metrics related to an employee’s activity. Performance in the MyInertia program also allows employees to earn a rebate toward their health insurance premiums.

While participation in the program isn’t mandatory, nearly everyone is enrolled – and the results have been astounding. According to Schultz, 80 percent of employees met the standards to receive some form of a rebate during 2012 as a result of their activity.

While statistics and metrics don’t always carry much weight for encouragement, individual, tangible results often do much better. Schultz reported one female employee lost 45 pounds just through the work with her health coach to change her diet and physical activity. Another male employee who is diabetic lost 35 pounds and was able to cease his diabetes medicine. Schultz said a number of other employees have been able to discontinue certain prescriptions they were on as well. Results such as these are shared during employee meetings, making the rationale behind the intent of the wellness program much more real.

“Because wellness is a non-tangible concept, the more N.E.W. Plastics has made this tangible, the more they’ve made it real for the employees,” said Chris Hanson, president and owner of Hanson Benefits Inc. and another veteran of B2B’s Alla tua Salute! panel.

With continuous improvement a hallmark of N.E.W. Plastics’ wellness program, the company opened an on-site health clinic in 2012 through a partnership with Green Bay-based Prevea Health. The clinic is available to all employees, with walk-in care available at no cost and a nominal $5 or $10 co-payment paid for selected lab work and tests. Schultz said the clinic can provide all of the same care services employees would receive at any other walk-in clinic, but with no lines and at a savings of more than $100 per visit as compared to what would otherwise be billed to insurance.

Maintaining fun

It’s not often that an Alla tua Salute! Award has been presented to an employer in manufacturing. We simply don’t receive as many nominations for manufacturers, and perhaps one reason is the challenge associated with engaging employees on multiple shifts who often may not have desktop computers and access to company email.

N.E.W. Plastics has gone out of its way to engage all of its employees, sponsoring as many as 10 wellness competitions during the course of a year. Some of the challenges have pitted the senior leadership team against the tactical leadership team on the plant floor. Others involved departments pitted against one another, often competing in average steps per day as gauged by the MyInertia program for incentives such as various vendor gifts or cash.

An additional annual challenge N.E.W. Plastics established against the staff of a nearby dental clinic in Luxemburg earns the winner bragging rights to a traveling trophy that’s proudly displayed until the following year’s challenge.

Like a number of other company wellness programs, N.E.W. Plastics holds an annual Health Fair each June, allowing employees and their families an opportunity to learn more about healthy lifestyles from more than a dozen local vendors who participate. The popular event includes games and activities which make it an exciting day for even the children of employees, all the while teaching important lessons about healthy living.

Altogether, N.E.W. Plastics’ wellness activities have helped drive a positive cultural change which is paying dividends for individual employees and helping improve the company’s bottom line.

“Our results have been pretty good over the last couple of years,” Schultz said.

Leading the Way

Alla tua Salute! Emeritus Wellness Programs

With more than a decade each of robust wellness initiatives in the workplace, both Miles Kimball Company of Oshkosh and Neenah-based J. J. Keller & Associates have become mentors for other employers in northeast Wisconsin beginning their own wellness programs from the ground up.

Both organizations are past multiple-time winners of B2B’s Alla tua Salute! Awards, and in 2011 we recognized their history of exceptional wellness programming with Emeritus Wellness Program status.

Catalog and Internet retailer Miles Kimball is in its 13th year of providing wellness programming and an enhanced wellness culture to its team members and their families. The company received B2B’s inaugural Alla tua Salute! Award, as well as winning the recognition again in 2008 and 2009.

After remarkable improvement in the individual health of its employees during the first 10 years, the company is focusing on expanding its wellness initiatives to the spouses of employees, who have always been welcome to participate in wellness initiatives, though few have elected to do so. The company is kicking off telephonic health coaching for spouses in 2013, providing one-on-one coaching to review health risk assessment results and set and work toward goals to improve health.

Miles Kimball has also contracted with a registered dietician that comes onsite to design personalized nutrition plans for good health, weight management and to help employees meet their nutritional needs.

The company’s cigarette smoking cessation efforts continue to produce results, lowering the number of employees who use tobacco to just 10 percent of its total workforce, less than half the rate of tobacco use in Wisconsin and less than half of the 20.7 percent rate of Miles Kimball employees who used tobacco products in 2005.

  1. J. Keller has 17 years of health risk assessment data from its employees, and received B2B’s Alla tua Salute! award in 2010 and again in 2011. The provider of safety and regulatory compliance products and services was awarded the coveted Platinum Well Workplace Award from the Wellness Council of America in February, making it just the fifth company in Wisconsin ever to receive this award and the only company to achieve a perfect score.

This past year the company implemented a standards-based incentive program called K-LIFE Wellness Points, which allows its employees to earn up to 18 percent on their health insurance premium incentive.

In the third year of its on-site health clinic, J. J. Keller recorded savings and health insurance cost avoidance of $217,513 during fiscal 2012. The company is expanding its on-site clinic this year by adding another exam room and will have two nurse practitioners available for a total of 60 hours each week.

While J. J. Keller has made its wellness program available to spouses of employees on a voluntary basis in the past, as of this year, spousal health risk assessment participation is now one of the mandated contingents tied into the health insurance incentive employees can earn.

by Sean Fitzgerald