Pressure Points (March)

With Dr. Bruce Hartung

Q: I recently attended a personal wellness seminar with our ministry leadership team, where many good ideas were presented.  I am encouraged by our district’s approach to strengthening our teams and leaders.

It sounds as though our Synod also wants to encourage this wholistic-wellness idea, but I’m wondering if it could do more.

For example, my husband and I both have Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Minnesota health insurance. His is through another employer which has contracted with the insurance company to offer benefits to promote wellness. First, each adult can earn up to $20 per month for regularly attending the YMCA, Curves, or other fitness centers. Second, we have enrolled with a health coach to tackle an issue important to each of us, such as weight, high blood pressure, stress, back pain, etc. By filling out a form, talking to the health coach about every six weeks, and reading through literature, we save money on the health insurance premiums.

These sound like simple, positive steps toward wellness.

Is this something Concordia Plans also could include?  Thank you for researching the possibility.

A: Your question raises a very important concern: commitment to prevention and wellness, as well as spending dollars to support care for people when they Hartung, Bruceare ill.

We in the United States have not learned to make this commitment, considering that 95 percent of our health-care dollars are spent on care for illness, and only 5 percent on prevention and wellness. This is not a sensible strategy.

And so, I got in touch with representatives of our Concordia Health Plan (CHP) to see how they view this concern.

I learned that CHP has looked into the possibility of offering the BCBS of Minnesota fitness center credits, but ran into some obstacles. The primary barrier is with not having the capacity to offer all members the same benefit. This is especially true for males, who do not have access to the Curves contract. CHP could not in good conscience offer a benefit in which a substantial number of its members could not participate.

But here’s what I found that CHP could  — and does — offer:

  • March 2007, CHP introduced its new “Be Well … Serve Well” health and wellness initiative, which encourages active participation by the worker in prevention and wellness attitudes and behaviors.

  • CHP members have access to a personal health coach through the CareAllies Health Advisor program. Members simply call CareAllies at (800) 605-6621. Also, by calling that number, a CHP member can access Smart Steps, a disease management program for chronic conditions, as well as Lifestyle Management programs for stress reduction, weight loss, and tobacco cessation. And, CHP members are encouraged to take a 15-minute Health Risk Assessment to determine current risks for certain health conditions by going to the CareAllies Web site at Discounts for initially joining Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig, Curves, and other health clubs also are available through the Healthy Rewards program.

To find out more, go to and click on “Health and Wellness.”

In addition, effective January 2008, preventive care benefits were enhanced for most CHP Options to cover many preventive services without a copay, coinsurance, or deductible to further support the “Be Well … Serve Well” initiative.

I see these CHP initiatives as important, useful, and significant. Incentives for participation in wellness programs clearly make a lot of sense. The reader’s question and its implied encouragement to CHP to develop more incentives are well taken, in my judgment.

Could CHP do more? Absolutely! But CHP is right in doing only what it can do fairly for all its members.

Equally important, however, is encouragement for the workers of the church — certainly including those in congregations — to make prevention and wellness a priority.

It is a truism that the squeaky wheel gets the proverbial grease — or in this conversation, illness needs to be treated, and that treatment supported by our CHP. But to balance one-liners, it also is true that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. So prevention and wellness need to be supported by our CHP, our congregations, educational institutions, and by the workers themselves.

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

Posted Feb. 28, 2008

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