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Dow Constantine

King County's work to contain cost of employee health care wins award from Seattle Business magazine


"King County saves money, saves lives," says magazine in awarding its 2013 Leaders in Health Care award for best Wellness Program


King County's Healthy IncentivesSM Program last night earned the top award for employee wellness programs from Seattle Business magazine at its annual Leaders in Health Care Awards dinner in Seattle.

"This honor belongs to all of our King County employees," said King County Executive Dow Constantine. "They made the tough choices and did the hard work to live healthier lives. By adopting an early morning exercise routine, sticking to a healthy diet, and trying again when things aren't quite clicking, they helped save $46 million in health care costs, preventing cuts to critical public services."

King County was one of 25 of Washington state health care innovators, CEOs, hospitals and other organizations honored by Seattle Business for "making heroic contributions to the well-being of people the world over through enormous dedication, groundbreaking research, and thoughtful stewardship." The Healthy Incentives Program was recognized for saving $46 million, improving employee health, and serving as a model for other programs in the Puget Sound region and across the country.

"The accomplishments are especially noteworthy given the county's diverse workforce," says the magazine in its new March issue, "which ranges from Metro bus drivers to physically active parks maintenance workers to highly sedentary department managers who spend their days sitting at desks."

The program was launched in 2006 in response to rapidly increasing health care costs. From 2001 to 2005, health care costs rose at 9.8 percent. Once Healthy Incentives was put into place, the trend decreased to 5.8 percent. Of the $46 million saved from 2007 to 2011:

  • $14.6 million is from improved health.
  • $6.5 million comes from employees shifting to the higher-quality, lower-cost health care available at Group Health.
  • $24.7 million is from employees making more careful decisions about routine healthcare services after small increases were made in co-pays, co-insurance and deductibles.

One-third of the cost savings is attributable to health improvements. Since the program began more than 800 people have quit smoking. The smoking rate among employees has dropped by nearly half, from 12 percent to 7 percent, lower than the state and national average. County employees have also had significant success with weight loss, with 2,000 people having lost 24 tons of weight.

"The audience of health care's best and brightest audibly gasped when told of the six-year results of our Healthy Incentives program," said Caroline Whalen, King County Director of Executive Services, who accepted the award at last night's dinner on behalf of the County Executive.

More than 90 percent of employees and their spouses or domestic partners have elected to participate in the program each year. Participants earn lower out-of-pocket expenses for taking a health risk assessment and doing a multi-week action plan that can include stress management, exercise, weight loss, or diabetes prevention.

King County "receives between 200 and 300 calls a year from governments and employers across the country seeking to replicate King County's results," as the magazine reports. "In response, the county has been working with other regional governments to reproduce that success."

Our next step is to integrate smartphone apps into our incentive structure, to make it easier for employees to manage their health and report their accomplishments," said Executive Constantine. "You have to meet people where they are."

Leaders in Healthcare Award Winner

King County Executive Dow Constantine/Seattle Business Magazine photo by Hayley Young
Seattle Business Magazine photo by Hayley Young

Related Links

Seattle Business Magazine story on the 2013 Leaders in Health Care Award to King County

Healthy Incentives

King County Executive
Dow Constantine
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Read the Executive's biography