Founded in 1780, Transylvania University in Lexington, KY is the 16th oldest institution of higher learning in the United States. With approximately 1,000 students, it’s committed to “cultivating a campus environment of mutual respect and impassioned conviction and developing leaders who will succeed in a diverse and connected world.” One important element in achieving this goal is to ensure that its faculty and staff are happy, healthy, and productive employees.

Former Associate Vice President and Director of Human Resources, Jeff Mudrak, took on the task of discovering how the University could best support its workforce, helping them to be the healthiest, happiest versions of themselves. After taking a close look at the University’s health care data, he discovered that many health plan members were living with, or were at risk for, diabetes, high blood pressure, and/or high cholesterol. He believed that the University was in a position to do more to support employees’ well-being. In addition, he hoped to stem the rising tide of chronic disease and ease the associated toll on health care costs. As a result, the University implemented SentryHealth’s workforce health programs for chronic condition managment (CCM) and health coaching.

First, SentryHealth conducted a comprehensive Biometric Screening and Health Risk Assessment of all employees. This is now completed annually or when new employees enroll in the health plan. Employees with qualifying clinical values were invited to participate in a CCM or Health Coaching program that is tied to a premium discount. Each program includes one-on-one sessions with a clinician or registered dietitian by phone to support medication adherence and personal health goals.

Since implementation of the workforce health program, the number of employees in the “high-risk” range has fallen by 40%. Additionally, the University’s health plan is a half-million dollars under budget. “Can I say it’s all because of SentryHealth?” Mudrak says. “I can’t say that. But I do believe SentryHealth had a lot to do with it.” In the following Q&A, Mudrak describes how SentryHealth’s unique programs had a positive effect on employee health and the University’s health plan as a whole.

What drew you to SentryHealth’s workforce health programs?

It’s a rule of thumb that 50% of health care costs are attributable to 5% of your population, and that 80% of costs are from 20% of your population. That’s true almost to the penny for us. In 2008, we started looking at the results of the disease management program provided by our insurer. We sat down and talked to the doctor in charge of it, evaluating engagement and the support provided. We discovered it was mainly focused on the most critical cases, like cancer, which is necessary but not sufficient. For example, the diabetes cases weren’t being handled well, and based upon review of aggregate reports we knew that there were more cases than the ones being addressed. There was limited engagement, and we were disappointed with the service level. It wasn’t addressing our highest cost claimants.

When you start looking at ways to cut plan costs, too often employers are focused on things like increasing deductibles, coinsurance, and out-of-pocket maximums. The problem is, you’re not really saving — you’re just shifting costs to employees. We were also reading numerous articles indicating that 70% of all health care dollars are spent on preventable conditions. If we can just reduce that by 10%, that will save $150,000. Plus, it will have a positive impact on quality of life. That’s when we decided to reach out to SentryHealth for help. Our whole approach since has been focused on enhancing health, knowing the result is probably going to be reduced health care costs.

What are Transylvania’s participation levels in the SentryHealth programs?

We have 464 people on our health plan and about 138 of them are eligible for the CCM program. Among health plan members who are eligible for the CCM program, we have 50% engagement. Of the high-risk population, 42% are enrolled in the appropriate programs. There were a lot of questions around privacy — why do we (at the University) want the data? I repeatedly explained that we don’t see any individual’s data; we only see aggregated reports.

Do the premium discounts help?

The discount works, no question. And not only do our people get a premium discount, but those who participate in the CCM program have zero copay on related prescriptions. On an annual basis, in aggregate, it costs the University about $6,000 to cover the copay costs. But, if you are a lower wage earner, it means a considerable savings to you.

How do you calculate return on investment with SentryHealth?

Can I prove a 3-for-1 return? I feel comfortable we’re getting that, but it’s hard to prove. We are also looking at VOI, value of impact — people are sick less often and are more productive. But, we don’t make widgets here and we haven’t tracked the reduction in sick leave, so it’s hard to quantify. We’re continuing to partner with SentryHealth and our health insurance consultant to measure the program’s impact. I’m confident we’ll get closer to identifying a better way to calculate the return and impact within the next year.

What is the financial basis for engaging a third party like SentryHealth?

Right now, about 10% of every net tuition dollar is going to fund our employees’ health coverage. We care about the rising cost of tuition and we want to be able to provide an affordable education for our students. So, we are doing all we can to make proactive, cost-effective investments in our employees’ health. Our work with SentryHealth is the current pinnacle of our efforts. Those who are enrolled in the workforce health programs can visit the on-site nurse practitioner to get critical support with managing chronic conditions, conveniently and privately. They value that, and it reinforces personal accountability to their health goals when they have a face-to-face conversation about progress and setbacks.

The SentryHealth Difference

Our worksite health clinics and employee health programs engage populations in a meaningful way by combining the power of data analytics, education, and evidence-based medicine. Because we provide effective assistance and support to individuals living with chronic conditions or those trending towards a condition, we see higher levels of engagement and participation. This means that our clients realize a measurable return on investment through improved clinical and financial outcomes. Contact us today to learn more.