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Getting Healthy By Choice at Calvin
December 12, 2004

Calvin College employees will get paid to get fit under a new cooperative program between the college and Priority Health.

Health by Choice is a program designed by Priority Health and offered to institutions that use Priority Health. It is intended to help people take more accountability for their health.

Human resources personnel at Calvin are eager to get started in the program.

"The trend in health care," says Calvin director of human resources Todd Hubers, "is to incentivize people to take more control of their own health. In the past health insurance was simply an umbrella for people when they got sick. Now, health insurance companies, and employers, are recognizing that they need to do more to help people take steps to stay healthy."

Under the new Health by Choice program at Calvin the college will receive a reduction on its health care premium for 2005.

Calvin will take that reduction and match it, creating a pool of funds from which it will do two things.

One, it will add some offerings to its current Healthy Habits program, a campus-wide effort coordinated by both Human Resources and the Health, Physical Education, Recreation, Dance and Sport department. Currently the Healthy Habits program at Calvin offers a number of mostly noontime options to faculty and staff: things like volleyball, aerobics, water aerobics, pilates, yoga and more.

Second, the college will give $200 to each employee who participates in the Health By Choice program.

In order to receive the incentives, participants in the "Health by Choice" program must accomplish five things:

-complete an online health risk assessment (HRA) at the beginning of the year
-set personal wellness goals
-comply with preventive health care guidelines, including a physical exam
-actively manage health conditions such as asthma, diabetes, cardiovascular and depression
-update the health risk assessment at least once during the year to measure how their change in behavior impacts their health risks

The Healthy Habits director is HPERDS professor Julie Walton, who came to Calvin from Spectrum Health in Grand Rapids where she was an exercise physiologist and a research coordinator in the HeartReach Program, an initiative for the prevention of heart disease.

She says Health By Choice is a good complement to the Healthy Habits efforts.

"The cornerstone of the Healthy Habits initiative is to encourage staff to become and stay physically active," she says. "We've done a lot of cool things to get people to participate - things like the pedometer contest, the 'Climb Mount Everest' stair-climbing event and the 'I-Did-A-Sport' cross-training aerobics contest modeled after the Iditarod. But a little cash won't hurt our efforts at all!"

The payoff for the college, Hubers says, will come down the road.

"Hopefully this will help our employees make healthier choices and take preventative steps in health care," he says. "Those things will lead to healthier employees and, we hope, better control of future health care costs."

Hubers adds that reaction to the program has been very positive with employees currently signing up at a 75 percent rate.