Pressure Points (June)

By Dr. Bruce Hartung

For this month’s column, I offer two readers’ responses from several that I received about the March column that addressed wellness benefits and initiatives in our Concordia Health Plan (CHP).  The first response picks up after that reader made the point that equitability for all workers is not always used as a rationale for eligibility for all benefits.

Q: I wear glasses. Another person may need counseling, another a prosthetic.  Because all of us don’t need all these benefits, they do not need to be offered equitably to everyone. Exercise is the only benefit that is truly [needed] across the board. We can all exercise. We all certainly can benefit from the wellness and preventive benefits exercise offers.

Perhaps the main reason that CHP is not covering this benefit equitably is that it cuts into the bottom line. We are an aging work force, and so benefits are directed elsewhere. But I for one wish that CHP offered equitable benefits for exercise. My family and I would love it and use it.  Wellness and the preventive benefits of exercise mean less costs later in life for all of us.

Q: I also called CHP about the fitness-center credits. The answer I received was purely financial. It costs more money to provide the fitness credits, so they aren’t going to do it. The fairness answer seems lame, since there are many fitness centers to choose from, most of which allow males. All the other options CHP is offering don’t do much to help people like me who are basically healthy, but find it difficult to stay motivated to exercise without a gym membership. My husband is a church worker who earns less than $50,000 a year. So, to us, gym membership seems more of a luxury than a necessity.

A: The CHP vice president for education and outreach responds to points raised by the two writers, in part, as follows:Hartung, Bruce

“At Concordia Plan Services, we are always looking for ways to enrich services for our members.  We know that a healthy body promotes a healthier ministry.

We would like nothing more than to include fitness center memberships for all.

“[But] this is one of those things that is easier said than done. [Such] reimbursement programs would mean added cost to the CHP, and would result in increased contribution rates … . Due to the potential for added cost, we want to be sure that the program would have wide availability for plan members.  Moreover, these benefits would likely be deemed taxable income, which brings a host of compliance issues … .”

In reference to the reader’s comment that all can exercise, the CHP vice president continues, “Yes, we can! And we can employ a workout program just about anywhere and in many different ways: in our homes, church or school gyms, shopping malls; by walking, gardening, playing with our kids, etc … .”

At some level, then, we do seem to be at the bottom line. A real holistic approach would help us, though.  How can we support worker health so that there is less need to support disease treatment? This would save lives, promote more energy for ministry, and save CHP money as well.

If wellness activities are actually cost-savers, then funding them should be a natural.

I encourage CHP to fund half of a health-club membership for two years for whomever in the Plans wants it and who agrees to a minimum workout routine of three times a week. CHP would reimburse its half of the club membership if and when the member meets a major pre-set goal, such as weight reduction by a certain number of pounds.

I encourage congregations or other employers of church workers to fund the other half of the health-club membership. They should create health accountability systems for workers so that they are not just working at health by themselves.
And I encourage workers to start an exercise routine that includes walking for at least 45 minutes, four times a week; stretching exercises every morning and evening; and cutting 50 percent of their junk food intake.

These are not the only options for health and wellness, but they are actions that would constructively begin or continue us on our journey.

Let’s go for it!

Rev. Bruce M. Hartung, Ph.D., is dean of Ministerial Formation for Concordia Seminary, St. Louis. He can be reached at hartungb@csl.edu.

Posted May 30, 2008

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