In 2003, the Capital Metropolitan Transit Authority (Capital Metro) in Austin, TX, was experiencing health care cost increases of 15 to 25 percent per year. The increases threatened to stretch Capital Metro’s scarce resources to the breaking point and distract the agency from its core mission: providing quality public transportation for the greater Austin area.
Capital Metro’s health plan already promoted health awareness and savings but, based on the potential return on investment, the agency decided to create a separate wellness program that would stem rising health care costs and enhance employee health, reduce absenteeism, and improve morale.
Employee Wellness Program: holistic, technology-based, and effective
Capital Metro based its Employee Wellness Program on a successful one-year wellness program initiated by one of its unions. The program increased its chances of success by:
- consistently collecting and using employee feedback to decide which programs to offer and how to accommodate its employees’ shifting schedules.
- contracting with MediFit, Inc., a national wellness company that specializes in employee health and wellness programming, injury prevention, training for special populations, and industry best practices for employee health to run the program.
- offering personal training and nutrition counseling free of charge, helping participants complete personalized fitness and nutrition programs with ongoing support and accountability.
Increasing value while cutting costs
In 2013, the program made three major policy changes to help add value, as well as save $300,000-$600,000 in absenteeism costs. The program:
- opened fitness classes and wellness challenges to household members of employees and contractors, making healthy living a shared family experience.
- made Capital Metro headquarters a 100 percent tobacco free campus. To help smokers quit, the program offers free on-site “Freedom from Smoking” classes four times per year and offers cash incentives for staying tobacco free.
- created the “DOT Preparation Program,” which helps bus operators and mechanics obtain the medical clearance card required to keep their commercial license in good standing. Participants meet with a health fitness specialist at least three months before their exam and take the same biometric exam required by the Department of Transportation. Participants who receive test results outside the healthy range are prescribed an exercise and nutrition program and monitored throughout the course of the program to ensure they pass.
While health care and absenteeism costs have continued to rise around the country, the Wellness Program has helped save Capital Metro substantially in health care costs and lost productivity over the past 10 years. The program has:
- saved $4,568,167 dollars in health care expenses over the past seven years
- cumulatively saved more than $27 million since the program’s inception in expected health care costs as determined by national trends
- produced a return of $3.30 for every $1 invested
By 2013, 51 percent of the eligible population was considered a “unique” participant, meaning more than half the entire workforce was actively engaged in one or more wellness-led program or activity.
By looking beyond the standard budget cuts many agencies make, Capital Metro has established an award winning program that serves as a model for how employers can encourage employees to improve their health. The program has attracted recognition from numerous regional and national organizations, and has been profiled by the PBS program “Austin Now” and Fox News.
For more information contact:
Michael S. Nyren
Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority
2910 East Fifth Street
Austin, Texas 78702