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A Healthier You

The job benefit that can help lower your rising health insurance payroll deduction


(CNBC) – Jamie Aslin is team leader of institutional employee well-being at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, a place where precise measurements matter. So when he saw an annual health-care premium trend that went from increasing more than 7 percent annually to suddenly being negative, he thought something had to be wrong.

“We couldn’t believe it,” Aslin said. “We thought it was a fluke, but it wasn’t.”

The reason: In 2014, Los Alamos had implemented a new employee wellness program. In fact, as its health-care costs went down — in the first year after the wellness program, the total cost declined from $141 million to $138 million — Los Alamos had an unexpected problem: what to do with the extra money.

“We started having so much money in reserve, we had to do something with it or the government was going to take it back,” he said. Los Alamos is part of the Department of Energy. So the employer created its first-ever health insurance premium holiday — for two pay periods, no premium payments were taken out of worker paychecks.

Overall, Los Alamos saved $21 million in three years, and while the health insurance premium trend could not stay negative forever, it has stabilized at an annual rate of 2.5 percent, much lower than the national average of more than 7 percent. It saw the most savings, not surprisingly, among overweight and obese workers, the ones who were getting hurt the most. Los Alamos estimates a $100,000-per-employee health-care cost avoidance.

Los Alamos uses a wellness program from Virgin Pulse, a company started under the Richard Branson corporate brand (the billionaire sold his 26 percent stake last May), which represents 7.5 million members and roughly 4,000 companies.

“His mantra was ‘You take care of your people, they will take of your business,’” said David Osborne, Virgin Pulse CEO.

Virgin Pulse launched this idea 14 years ago, and it is increasingly becoming adopted across the corporate sector.

“Millennials now want more than a paycheck,” Osborne said. “They want to have an employer invest in well-being, not just in their skills training.”

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