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W&L Wellness Program Offers Increased Incentive to Participants

At Washington and Lee University, getting — and staying — healthy is proving to be worth the effort, and the value has just gone up.

As a way to increase participation in Live Well, the University’s wellness program, employees who choose to participate will now receive a $50 per month discount on their health insurance premiums. Couples receive a $75 discount.

“We had close to 50 percent participation in the wellness program this past year and 30 percent of employees earned the incentive. But with this larger incentive we hope to improve that number significantly. Our goal is to get 80 percent of employees participating,” said Amy Barnes, executive director of human resources at W&L.

The Live Well program is available for all employees, whether or not they participate in the University’s health insurance program. And there are rewards for those employees, too. “We’ll raffle some prizes for people who are not covered by W&L’s health insurance but who participate in Live Well and meet their goals,” said Mary Katherine Snead, assistant director for work/life initiatives.

According to Barnes, W&L has developed a program that is more likely to be found at a much larger college or university. “This is very unusual for a small liberal arts college. In fact, a lot of other liberal arts colleges are interested in hearing about our program,” she said.

To receive the health insurance premium discount, participants need to accumulate 300 points through Live Well during the year. Points can be earned in a variety of ways.

“The largest number of points comes from doing the biometric screening and the health risk assessment, which anyone can and should do,” said Barnes. “That accounts for 150 points, or half the total. Then there are lots of options for getting the other 150 points.”

Some of those points can come from preventive care, such as visiting the dentist or eye doctor, or getting a mammogram for women, or a PSA test for men. “Those sorts of visits should be routine,” said Snead. “But this serves as an incentive.”

Snead noted that Live Well is also designed so that people who are not physically able can gain points with options such as seminars, supplemental questionnaires and online courses.

For those who want to be more active, they can set their own personal goals through a health professional at Viverae, the company W&L has partnered with on the Live Well initiative. “Viverae provides the educational resources, online programs and webinars, the things we wouldn’t be able to provide in-house because we lack expertise in those areas,” said Snead.

Barnes noted that the University has an advantage over some other employers by virtue of its facilities. “We have the fitness center, walking trails and a pool. So we have the basics to do a program like this,” she said.

In order to help guide the program, W&L receives aggregate information from Viverae, although individual data are never shared. “This past year’s biometric screenings and health scores indicated that activity levels were lower than they could be and high cholesterol levels were an issue. This information helps us provide more targeted health information in building our program, rather than just guessing, which is what we were doing beforehand,” said Snead.

One major difference in W&L’s wellness program is that it includes spouses in the incentives. “Including spouses is not typical of most places,” said Barnes. “But while it costs Washington and Lee additional money, we are willing to pay to get more spouses involved. One bonus is that if both the employee and spouse are living a healthy lifestyle then that affects the children and makes them healthier.”

“It’s also a lot easier to make changes to your lifestyle if your spouse or partner is on board,” Snead pointed out.

Barnes noted that W&L can afford to offer the health discount incentive because the university received a two percent decrease in its health insurance premiums this year. “That’s pretty rare,” she said. “We expected and budgeted for a 10 percent increase, based on previous years. But instead of simply putting that money back into the operating budget, President Ruscio and Steve McAllister, vice president for finance and treasurer, were willing to put it back into the wellness program so we could really increase incentives and thereby increase participation.”

Barnes noted that there is a clear connection between the lowering of premiums and the presence of an effective wellness program. “The insurance company knows W&L has a wellness program and is anticipating that our population is going to be healthier,” she said. “So while Live Well represents a substantial outlay of money, the expectation is that there will be a return on that investment. Studies show that each dollar invested in wellness programs saves three dollars in health care costs.”

W&L has 850 benefit-eligible employees, and Snead estimated that between 350 and 400 employees took part this past year. “It’s a great program,” she said, “and we encourage people to participate.”

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Sarah Tschiggfrie
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