Approximately 50 percent useKaiser, partly because it has a convenient and beautiful facility five minutesaway from the office, says Carol Box, HR specialist. The other half uses BlueShield because of the variety of plans available: two levels of HMO, PPO andPOS. “We began offering Blue Shield on January 1 this year,” she says.
The main perk for employees,she says, are the complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) benefits offeredthrough the HMO’s Mylifepath network.
Consumers drive benefits.
Blue Shield of California began providingalternative health coverage to its 1.6 million members in January 1998. Itsmembers have access to more than 1,000 alternative practitioners, includingacupuncturists, chiropractors, massage therapists, stress management experts and- would you believe - health spas?
Although total coverage isn’t offered, BlueShield provides CAM services for approximately 25 percent less than customaryfees. For example, a chiropractic adjustment may typically cost $40. With adiscount, it would cost the employee $30. Mylifepath participants also areeligible to visit alternative care providers as frequently as they wish. Theyalso don’t need referrals from a physician.
“The reason for expanded offerings issimple,” says Dr. Albert R. Martin, Blue Shield’s senior vice president andcorporate medical director. In spite of limited scientific evidence of efficacy,growing numbers of consumers are seeking non-traditional medicine for healthservices, he says.
True, the lack of scientific proof is anobstacle to incorporating CAM more quickly into mainstream health care. ButWashington, D.C.-based National Center for Complementary and AlternativeMedicine (NCCAM) - a part of the National Institutes of Health - is beginning toaddress this need. Founded in 1992, NCCAM’s budget for fiscal year 1999 is ahealthy $50 million. Its priorities are research, research training, publicinformation, field investigations, traditional and indigenous medicine andresponsive operations to the public, CAM and scientific communities, accordingto Dr. Wayne B. Jonas, NCCAM’s former director.
Mylifepath offerings help reduce absenteeism.
However, the seemingly slow progress hasn’tdeterred consumers. LifeCare employees using Blue Shield are extremely satisfiedso far. Says Box: “I’ve heard very few complaints. And believe me, thisgroup speaks out!” The major cost-saving benefit for the 150-employee firm hasbeen reduced absenteeism among the nonexempt employees. Clearly, wellness paysoff. Absenteeism, on the other hand, costs U.S. employers $50 billion a year,according to the Bureau of National Affairs.
According to Box, 15 employees have since joineda health club, several have tried acupuncture, a half dozen have usedchiropractic or massage therapy. As employees become more comfortable with theMylifepath plan, members are expected to explore other options as well.
“LifeCare is proud to offer a variety of plansto our employees,” says Box. “Offering multiple levels of coverage has beenvery positive for recruitment and retention. In the last few months, I’ve seena turnaround. Everyone speaks very positively about the [CAM] experience.”
Workforce,June 1999, Vol 78, No 6, p. 90 SubscribeNow!