As a poor, primarily rural state, Oklahoma ranks first in the nation for cardiovascular deaths, fifth for tobacco use, 13th in obesity and 12th in cancer deaths.
In 2001, 30 percent of the state’s 37,000 employees had been diagnosed with cardiovascular disease, diabetes, or both, and another 30 percent were at risk of developing these diseases. Alarmed by these statistics, the Employee Benefits Council (EBC) of the Oklahoma Department of Health and Human Services began to explore how to improve the health of state employees.
OK Health was launched in 2006 to teach employees to change their lifestyles and improve their health, while it reduces health care utilization and lowers insurance premiums.
The program relies on nine full-time health educators who counsel employees through telephone mentoring sessions at their work site during work time. To enroll in the program, employees complete a secure, web-based health assessment, including their medical history, nutrition, lifestyle, and other factors. They receive a copay-free visit to their primary care physician for lipid and glucose blood tests at the beginning of their participation in the program, and again in 12 months. OK Health uses the test results to assess employees’ health risks, and then assigns them a mentor, with whom they talk by phone as often as once a week to help them manage their weight, reduce stress, and exercise regularly.
During the 15-minute phone consultations, mentors and employees work through education modules on exercise, nutrition, stress management, diabetes management, smoking cessation, and other health topics. The counselors also teach time management skills to help participants build healthy habits into their daily lives. Participants can use online tools to develop goals and action plans, track their progress, and access related resources.
OK Health uses aggressive marketing, including focused outreach during health insurance open enrollment periods, to engage employees in the program. The program is open only to current employees, but Nancy Haller, manager of the State Wellness Program, hopes to open the program to employees’ spouses in the future.
Participants are eligible for several incentives:
- A free initial visit to a primary care physician and accompanying lab work;
- Discounts at fitness centers throughout the state; and
- Annual financial incentives totaling total $100, $300, or $500 at 64 state agencies.
- The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation called OK Health “exciting and innovative.”
- Recipient of the “Best in Class – Health Benefits Solution” award from the SouthWest Benefits Association.
- Recipient of an “Exemplary Efforts in Benefits Profession” award from the State and Local Government Benefits Association.
To date, 4,600 individuals have participated in the program for one year, and 1,000 have stayed in the program longer than one year.
In collaboration with epidemiologists at the Oklahoma State Department of Health, the EBC has determined that after three years of the program, OK Health participants have achieved measurable improvements in their health compared with non-participants:
- 21 percent decrease in medical claims
- 9 percent reduction in hospitalizations
- 34 percent reduction in doctor’s office visits
- 3 percent decrease in emergency room visits
“We are seeing dramatic results thus far and are striving for close to 100 percent participation in OK Health,” says Nancy Haller, manager of the State Wellness Program. “It is our goal to have the healthiest workforce in the nation by 2013. We believe it is achievable, and we are working hard to meet that challenge.”
Nancy A. Haller, MPH
Manager, State Wellness Program
Employees Benefits Council
120 N. Robinson, Suite 1100
Oklahoma City, OK 73102
Web site: www.ebc.ok.gov