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Business Observer Friday, Apr. 3, 2015 5 years ago

Live well

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There's plenty of research to prove why employee wellness programs don't work. Yet one firm has embraced the concept, with surprising results.
by: Barry Friedman Contributing Writer

As a lemons-into-lemonade kind of guy, Greg Sale looked at ObamaCare as a challenge.

When the law was being drafted, the Lakeland health insurance executive made it his mission to figure out how to finesse the health care act to benefit his company and its clients. The result is Well-Life Corporate Health System, a program designed to help small and mid-size businesses contain costs by leveraging tax policy and reducing claims through incentives that promote a healthy workforce.

Well-Life, seven years later, accounts for 40% of employee benefits revenue for OMS Group, a Lakeland HR outsourcing company. The program is also the company's largest contributor to revenue growth, says Jeff Miles, who along with Sale is one of OMS's three managing partners. The company declines to provide more specific financial information.

Miles and Bob Cleghorn, the third partner, founded OMS in 1997 as an employee-leasing business. Sale, 55, joined the firm in 2002 to oversee insurance programs when OMS changed directions to handle employee benefits, payroll, HR, workers' compensation and retirement for clients.

The Well-Life program grew out of discussions about the Affordable Care Act, Sale says. “We thought, what happens when Obamacare comes into play and you've got taxes averaging 18% for five straight years to pay for the exchanges?” Sale asks.

That's why the backbone of Well-Life is a wellness program that provides employees incentives to improve their health and thereby reduce claims, Sale says. Essentially, employees are rewarded with cheaper coverage and lower deductibles by participating in the wellness program. Well-Life, says Sale, sees 90% participation on average — more than three times the typical rate.

The companies that participate in the plan have payrolls that range from 100 to 1,800 employees and operate in 37 states. The list includes MidFlorida Credit Union, Cornerstone Hospice, Silver Springs Citrus and DeSoto Memorial Hospital. “As of today,” says Sale, “not a single Well-Life client has paid more for health coverage than what they paid previously for their fully insured plan.”

Sale says he's aware of critics who say wellness programs haven't lived up to the promises of cost savings and better health. Several national research organizations have backed up that point. But Sale counters his program's “intense wellness integration” reaches more employees and their spouses.

“We have grassroots lifestyle medicine programs that move people off of meds and away from high-risk disease-ridden lifestyles,” he says. “This impacts high claimants dramatically and lowers the number of large claims per year.”

OMS works with UMR, a United Healthcare subsidiary, to administer claims. That gives employees access to the United Healthcare Choice Plus network of providers. OMS has also negotiated with Publix for a discount on prescriptions.

One sign that OMS is on to something with Well-Life: Imitators have begun to pop up, trying to assemble similar programs. One advantage for OMS is that it's at least five years ahead of others.

“We had to have the foresight to hire people in advance and know that you make less money in this marketplace and you have more work,” says Miles. “Our bet was that we're going to generate more business and we're going to impact more lives by doing what we're doing.”

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