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Corporate Wellness Programs Promote Healthy Living

by South University
July 29, 2011

Companies are realizing that a healthy workforce can lead to substantial healthcare cost saving opportunities.  As a result, many companies use employee incentives to persuade workers to participate in corporate wellness programs, and take charge of their health.

WIKA Instrument Corporation started their employee wellness program in 2008, at the urging of the president of the company, says Cathy Bochenek, environmental health and safety manager at WIKA.

“Before we started our wellness program, our measure was to look at the premium ratio,” Bochenek says.  “This is the medical costs divided by the premium.”

Bochenek says that an 80% premium ratio is considered a breakeven point. If premium ratio rises above 80%, the company’s medical insurance rates will increase the following year.

“Before we started our wellness program, our premium ratio was at 91%,” Bochenek says. “It dropped to 82% after the first year, 74% after the second year, and 68% after the third year.”

In the first year of the WIKA wellness program, Bochenek says the company offered participating employees biometric screenings (a brief physical exam) and health risk assessments.

In the second year of the wellness program, WIKA stepped up the employee incentives by offering a 10% savings on healthcare premiums to every employee that participated in the program. Bochenek says 99% of employees opted to participate, resulting in money saving opportunities of anywhere between $400 - $1,200 in health insurance premiums for the year.

Having a robust wellness program is becoming a recruiting tool as job seekers are starting to view it as another valuable benefit.

Bochenek says the company decided to increase the employee incentives in the third year of the wellness program to include spouses. They offered an additional 10% money saving opportunity on healthcare premiums if the spouse of the employee participated. WIKA achieved 87% participation from spouses, saving couples anywhere from $700 - $2,500 that year on their medical premiums.

This year, WIKA began charging smokers a tobacco surcharge on their healthcare premiums. In an effort to help smokers kick the habit, the company offered a tobacco cessation program reimbursement, Bochenek says.

Currently in order to get a discount on healthcare premiums, couples must both participate in the wellness program to earn a 10% discount, and gain an additional 10% discount by pledging that they have been tobacco free for a minimum of five months. Bochenek says that spouse participation is now up to 92%.

Bochenek says the benefits to both the company and the employees make the wellness program a win-win for everyone.

 “We probably saved $300,000 just last year,” Bochenek says. 

Bochenek says the money saving achieved by the company on medical costs far outweighs the cost of the wellness program, which was $45,000 last year.

Employee Incentives Entice Workers To Participate

Nikki Washington, senior marketing communications manager at Intelispend Prepaid Solutions, says that employee incentives work to motivate workers to participate in wellness programs.

“A 2010 MasterCard and Harris Interactive study shows that companies offering rewards for joining wellness programs have a 61% participation rate versus only 26% without rewards,” Washington says. “An overwhelming 81% of employees say if they're offered rewards, they want monetary rewards.”

 wellness programs

Intelispend offers companies a MasterCard® Wellness Prepaid Card, as an incentive for employees to participate in wellness programs. Washington believes that a prepaid card serves as a better motivator for employees to participate in wellness programs than extra money in their paycheck because it stands out.

“A wellness bonus on a paycheck just disappears into the employee’s checking account and ends up being used for household expenses,” Washington says. “A prepaid reward card encourages guilt-free spending and can be personalized with the recipient’s name and branded with the company’s name or wellness program, making it a more meaningful and motivating reward.”

Wellness Programs Benefit Companies and Employees

Cheryl Monkhouse, spokesperson for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Georgia, says that wellness programs benefit a company in many ways, including increasing employee morale and productivity; improving employee health; and reducing healthcare costs, work-related injuries, employee turnover, and absenteeism.

“Having a robust wellness program is becoming a recruiting tool as job seekers are starting to view it as another valuable benefit,” Washington says. “And, of course, there is the benefit of simply having a happier, healthier, more engaged workforce.”

Monkhouse says employers aren’t the only ones to benefit from wellness programs.

“From an employee perspective, wellness programs have numerous benefits,” Monkhouse says.

She says some of the ways wellness programs may have a positive effect on employees include identification of health risks, avoidance of chronic conditions, relationship building with primary care physicians, learning  how to live a healthier lifestyle, improved self-esteem, increased productivity, team-building with fellow employees, and the satisfaction of knowing that their employer cares about their health.

Monkhouse says that companies are beginning to realize the value of implementing wellness programs, because of the many benefits associated with them.

“It could take up to three plus years to see cost savings and a return on investment, but the long-term value and benefits outweigh the potential start-up costs,” Monkhouse says.

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Play It Safe When Choosing Vitamins and Supplements

by South University
July 29, 2011

Millions of consumers believe taking dietary supplements each day helps them to feel their best and stay healthy. Although most are safe, some groups are calling for tighter government regulations to ensure these vitamins and supplements undergo rigorous quality assurance testing before they’re placed on the market.

David O’Dell, graduate Nursing program director at South University — West Palm Beach, says that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not evaluate the contents of vitamins and supplements, but it does regulate the quality of the products.

“For example, if a batch of vitamins was contaminated, the FDA would step in and demand that they be removed from shelves and work with the manufacturing company to remedy the problem,” O’Dell says. “They do respond to any major adverse reaction.”

O’Dell says that the FDA does not regulate vitamins and supplements in the same manner seen on prescriptions and over-the-counter medications.

Duffy MacKay, N.D., vice president of Scientific & Regulatory Affairs, at the Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN), says that dietary supplements are regulated as a category of food by the FDA, under the Dietary Supplement Health & Education Act (DSHEA) of 1994.  

“The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) also regulates supplements, both for the marketing and advertising of these products,” Mackay says.

Are Government Regulations Strict Enough?

O’Dell says the industry that produces vitamins and supplements is self-regulated by the Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) and the U.S. Pharmacopoeia (USP).

“These are quality assurance organizations,” O’Dell says. “All manufacturing companies that produce vitamins and supplements are responsible for product testing and should be reviewed by independent third-party companies to verify quality.”

Don’t seek out a supplement product advertising dramatic, instant, or drug-like effects.

O’Dell says that groups interested in the quality of vitamins and supplements have pushed to have the FDA take over the quality control of vitamins and supplements, but these efforts have been met with strong resistance.

“Some say that the FDA would be good for the general health of consumers,” O’Dell says. “Others point out that the FDA has made errors in evaluating and releasing prescription medications that ended up being very harmful to some consumers. The debate continues.”

Some experts think it is highly unlikely that the FDA will take control of the regulation of vitamins and supplements.

vitamins and supplements

“It's unlikely that Congress will tighten the regulations very much because the supplement industry has powerful allies in Congress and millions of customers who will lobby against any more restrictions,” says David Schardt, senior nutritionist, at the Center for Science in the Public Interest

Analyzing the Safety of Vitamins and Supplements

MacKay believes the current regulation process is safe for consumers.

“Dietary supplements are properly regulated by both the FDA and the FTC, and in such a way that consumer access to healthful products is balanced with minimizing safety risks,” MacKay says. “The overwhelming majority of supplement products on the market are both safe and beneficial, and consumers can have confidence that, if purchasing a reputable brand, they are getting a high quality supplement product.” 

The Government Accountability Office (GAO), disagrees that vitamins and supplements are properly regulated.

“In our 2009 report, we found that consumers are vulnerable to risks posed by potentially unsafe products,” says Lisa Shame, director of Natural Resources and Environment at GAO.

“Although FDA has used varied approaches, such as analyzing adverse events and conducting inspections, to identify safety concerns and has taken some actions, such as detaining certain potentially unsafe imported products, in response to these concerns, several factors limit FDA’s ability to further identify and act on safety concerns,” Shame says.

Schardt also believes that although most supplements are safe, they should face stronger regulations.

“While some supplements may be important for some people — calcium, vitamin D, folic acid, and vitamin B-12 for example, millions of consumers are wasting their money on other unproven supplements,” Schardt says.

Making Dietary Supplements Safer for Consumers

MacKay says the CRN urges the FDA to take swift action against companies illegally selling products falsely claiming to be dietary supplements.

“FDA has the authority under the law to take strong action against any companies not following the law and our organization repeatedly urges FDA to use that enforcement authority,” MacKay says. “For example, last December the dietary supplement industry joined with FDA to warn consumers about products that contain pharmaceutical ingredients and are illegally being sold as dietary supplements.” 

In its 2009 report, Shame says GAO made a few recommendations to enhance the FDA’s oversight of dietary supplements and foods with added dietary ingredients. These include requesting more information on the companies and products it is required to regulate, dedicating more resources to dietary supplement oversight activities, and increasing its ability to efficiently and effectively remove a product from the market.

MacKay says there are a number of things consumers can do to ensure they are purchasing a high quality supplement product.

“Consumers should also manage their expectations for what a supplement can and cannot do — supplements are meant to supplement the diet, and be used in combination with other healthy habits, such as getting a healthy diet and plenty of exercise,” MacKay says. “Don’t seek out a supplement product advertising dramatic, instant, or drug-like effects — and question supplements being advertised as such.” 

MacKay suggests that consumers read the CRN fact sheet, “One Dozen Tips for Consumers,” before purchasing a supplement. 

O’Dell says that doing research on supplements before purchasing them can teach consumers valuable information, such as if they will react badly with other foods, products, or prescribed medications.

“Everyone should discuss all vitamins and supplements with their health care provider or pharmacist to assure that no adverse reactions occur as a result of taking what could be considered an innocent pill,” O’Dell says.

Schardt says that consumers should only purchase supplements from reputable companies.

“Buy from major companies or retailers they trust, like Centrum or Target or many others like them,” Schardt says. “These companies are responsible and have too much to lose by selling unsafe products. Consumers can also subscribe to ConsumerLab.com, a website that analyzes supplements for quality.”

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Take a Tour of the Online Classroom

by South University
July 28, 2011

For a prospective student who has never tried their hand at learning online, one of the main questions that comes to mind is how it all works, particularly the online classroom experience.Here are some of the common question a new student may have:

  • Is the online classroom easy to use?
  • Is it interactive?
  • Will I get to know my fellow students and my instructor?
  • How do I hand in assignments

In response to these questions, South University has created a brand new Online Classroom Demo. Click on the link on the home page for more information.

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The Argosy University Cheer

by Student
July 28, 2011

By Guest Blogger
Jennifer Putman

Student at Argosy University - Online Programs

I chose to name my submission “The Argosy University Cheer” because I am definitely rooting for Argosy. This online learning experience has become more than just beneficial to me - it has actually been life changing.

I attended a traditional college in the past and struggled with attendance issues. At the time I was a single mother of four children and there was always some issue that would blind side me and my education, unfortunately, had to take a back seat. It seemed impossible for me to be successful. I had little hope and was frustrated. I felt very inadequate as a mother and a role model.

I was introduced to Argosy by a family member who is currently a student of the online university. I made contact with my Personal Admissions Representative, Lydia Pettinger, in March of 2011. She was very nice, professional, and knowledgeable. Most of all she was patient with my computer illiteracy. We did everything over the phone, where she walked me through the financial aid aspect without a hitch. What impressed me overall was the time she took to learn some things about me, in order to help me choose a major.

There were definitely some obstacles to overcome and I was a little intimidated at first. My computer skills were “shabby” at best. I had a desktop pc in my living room that was unable to be moved to a quieter space. A week after I began my first class on April 18th, “Skill for Success,” my internet was disconnected. I had to order new service because the previous bill had gotten ridiculously out of control due to my husband and I being laid off. Embarrassing, but not the worst thing I would experience as my new service had a serious delay due to the storms and tornadoes that had occurred in various areas. It would be almost a month before I had internet again. I even tried doing my work at a family member’s house but could not concentrate with all the regular drama that frequents them. My transportation was limited at the time so the library was not always a feasible option. I had an enormous amount of anxiety and at the same time I was determined that I was just not going to give up. Perseverance was the name of the game. I wish I could claim patient endurance but I am still working on that. My Argosy team, Dalles Colby, Lydia Pettinger, and Mrs. Alexander, my instructor at the time, were terrific. I made contact with them as soon as things went south. They were patient with me and my mess and they were confident that I would recover and I did. I finished that class with a hundred percent of credit.

I have not missed a beat since and now I feel confident that I will succeed in this forum. I credit my success to my support team and the flexibility of online participation. I am flourishing as a student because I am able to do this. I no longer live with impending failure. This has carried over into other areas of my life as well allowing me to reinvent myself. So give me an A R G O S Y!

Are you an Argosy University Online Programs student interested in writing for this blog? Check the Welcome Center in the Campus Common to find out how!

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Check Out the Latest Featured Events!

by South University
July 25, 2011

On our Featured Events page, we showcase South University Online's latest meetings and ceremonies. Newly featured recordings include The National Technical Honor Society (NTHS)'s spring 2011 induction ceremony, a National Society of College Scholars (NSCS) meeting hosted by Dr. Gary J. Hanney, and the Sigma Beta Delta spring 2011 induction ceremony. If you missed these events when they were originally held, now is the perfect time to catch up!

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