Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Slimming Down Employees to Cut Costs

"UMass Memorial, one of the largest employers in Worcester, Mass., is trying to contain employee medical costs. State and federal health-care reforms require employers to cover a greater share of their staff, which means companies are on the hook for higher payments to insurers. U.S. health-care costs are rising rapidly, fueled by greater spending on prescription drugs, the increasing prevalence of chronic illness, and an aging population. Obesity alone costs U.S. companies as much as $45 billion annually, according to a 2008 report by the Conference Board, a nonprofit research group. In response, companies such as Intel (INTC), Papa John's International (PZZA), Timberland (TBL), Scotts Miracle-Gro (SMG), and International Paper (IP) are signing employees up for memberships on Web sites that provide information about nutrition and fitness. They're conducting health screenings and tracking staffers' workouts. Some companies are even giving workers pedometers to track how many steps they take. The goals are the same: to make employees fitter and reduce health-care expenses. Some companies have fitness in their DNA. Google (GOOG) offers workers fitness classes, including yoga, tai chi, and dance. There are employee fitness groups—even one for barefoot runners—and sports leagues for everything from volleyball to ultimate Frisbee. Google's campus in Mountain View, Calif., features on-site chiropractic and physical therapists, wellness coaching programs, and meditation centers. Its 16 caf├Ęs label foods by health value: green for healthy, yellow for be careful about portion sizes, and red for not-so-healthy."

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