Due to steep health care costs for University employees, the University’s Benefits Office is coming up with a plan to provide more incentives for faculty and staff to live healthier lifestyles.

Ted Makowiec, benefits strategist for the University, spoke to the Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs in a meeting yesterday about a three-step plan that the University would like to implement in fall 2013. Makowiec called the plan the “1-2-3 approach,” in which faculty and staff would receive a $20 monthly premium reduction in their health care plan and another $20 monthly reduction for their spouses or other qualified dependents. The reduction plan would span three years.

Under the “1-2-3 approach,” employees would be eligible for the $20 monthly reduction in their first year of employment by taking an assessment that determines if they are at high, medium or low health risk. Second-year employees would need to undergo another risk assessment along with a biometric screening — a brief health exam that tests cholesterol level, blood pressure and height and weight to determine patients’ risk for certain diseases and conditions. For the third year, employees would need to consult their clinicians regarding health concerns, such as smoking and hypertension, and work to decrease their health risks to receive the reduction.

Makowiec told the lead faculty governing body that the approach would allow faculty and staff to plan their finances accordingly and make an easier transition to an active lifestyle, while becoming more engaged with MHealthy programs. The University has spent $20 million on MHealthy programs such as low-cost fitness and dietary coaching and discounts on Weight Watchers programs, that are available to faculty and staff members.

Laurita Thomas, the University’s associate vice president for human resources, said the University is hoping the initial costs will pay off in the long run through reductions in employees’ health care costs. She added that individuals would not be held accountable for not attaining their fitness goals under the new incentives plan. Rather, the University will measure change in the health of the faculty and staff collectively.

“If there are outcomes associated with this, it is that we are trying to increase the health of our community and reduce health care costs,” Thomas said. “We are not tracking outcomes for any individual. We are looking at aggregate data from the population.”

SACUA member Charles Koopman, associate chair of the Medical School’s Department of Otolaryngology, said though MHealthy offers good fitness programs, the University should focus more on improving its recreational facilities before they expect faculty and staff to exercise more.

“We don’t have the facilities to implement this,” Koopman said. “We’re at the bottom of the Big Ten in our facilities, and if you deny it, then I’m going to take you to Wisconsin or Northwestern or Indiana and say, ‘Take a look.’”

Koopman estimated it would cost the University anywhere from $100 million to $200 million to undergo large-scale renovations of its recreational facilities. He added that until renovations happen, the University should subsidize employees’ cost of using the workout facilities. Membership for the University’s recreational facilities is $80 for the current semester.

SACUA member Rachel Goldman, professor of physics and engineering, said she also likes that MHealthy offers affordable fitness classes, but faculty and staff who are not accustomed to exercising are at risk for being injured during these classes. In order to prevent injury, Goldman said MHealthy should have preventative health education clinics in addition to fitness classes.

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