Tapping into the wellne$$ boom

Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:32 pm

Just a few years ago, Jo Steinberg, president of Milwaukee-based Midland Health Testing Services Inc., didn’t have to worry about competition in the wellness industry. She really didn’t have any.
Today, skyrocketing health insurance costs have prompted many employers to launch wellness programs in an attempt to improve their employees’ health and reduce their insurance claims.
According to a recent survey of American Management Association members, 80 percent of the executives surveyed said they believe corporate America has a responsibility to promote employee wellness, up from 71 percent last year.
More firms have added exercise and fitness, smoking cessation, blood pressure management, weight management, street management, cholesterol management and nutrition programs, according to the association.
That means rising profits for wellness service providers, and new companies are being formed to meet the rising demand.
Many of these firms perform health risk appraisals of a client’s employees, including blood pressure, cholesterol and others tests, and then provide coaching to help the employees address any health concerns and improve their diet and exercise habits.
"It’s definitely a boon for anybody that provides these kinds of services," said Elaine Mischler, executive vice president and chief medical officer of Avidyn Health. The firm is based in Dallas but has a regional office in Wausau and some clients in the Milwaukee area.
"It used to be I didn’t have any competition," Steinberg said. "And now there are all of these people saying, ‘Let’s do this.’ And that’s dangerous, because they don’t know what they are doing."
Steinberg said her firm’s revenue has tripled in the last year.
"It has skyrocketed," Steinberg said. "I’ve been doing this for 18 years. During most of that 18 years, (wellness) business was limited. Then in the last two years, health care costs just went through the roof and employers said, ‘We’ve got to do something.’ Previously, they didn’t want to spend money to save money. It was a very hard sell."
Connie Roethel, president of Mequon-based Complementary Health & Healing Partners, a corporate wellness and health promotion services company, said her firm’s revenues also have tripled in the last year.
Last October, because of the growing demand for wellness services, Roethel’s 12-year-old company shifted its emphasis from providing disease management services for its clients’ chronically ill employees to providing wellness services to improve the health and lifestyle of its clients’ employees before they develop health problems.
"We really turned on a dime," Roethel said. "We are really focusing now on the corporate wellness side. Now it’s the biggest focus of the business."
The expanded numbers of wellness program providers creates more options for employers to choose from, Roethel said.
"There’s a market now that they can shop," Roethel said.
Increasingly, hospitals also are adding wellness services for corporate clients.
Covenant Healthcare conducts health risk appraisals for the employees of its clients, examines their health insurance claims to determine what services would benefit them and then creates a program for the employees.
Many of Covenant’s wellness services have been provided for years, but they have only been marketed as corporate wellness services for the last six to eight months.
"We started out getting one or two calls a month," said Kris Krueger, regional director of employer relations for Covenant. "Now we’re getting three to five calls a week."
Columbia St. Mary’s Hospital in Milwaukee and Community Memorial Hospital in Menomonee Falls offer similar wellness services. Aurora Health Care also offers wellness services.
Shirley Rosien, director of wellness programs for Community Memorial, said the hospital has been offering such services for eight or nine years, but the demand for them from the business community has increased dramatically of late.
"I would say in the last 18 months there has been a straight line up in interest," she said.
Dr. Michael Lischak, medical director for Corporate WORx, which is the corporate wellness program for Columbia St. Mary’s, was hired in January to run the new program, created to meet the demand in the business community for wellness services.
"We’ve been developing a full range of wellness programs," he said. "Most companies want a return on investment, and you push what will bring them the most return on investment."
"How the term wellness is used, some businesses use that term as a substitute for something they’ve done before, just because (wellness) is in," said Dr. Andy Piersen, owner of St. Francis-based Wellness Strategies. "There is no set definition for the term, so it can be confusing. Especially a couple of years ago, a lot of providers, hospitals, physical therapists, chiropractors, started using the term, saying they offer wellness programs."
The demand for services should continue to grow because the employers that have added wellness programs are benefiting with lower health insurance cost increases, Steinberg said.
"Those who (added wellness programs) are laughing all the way to the bank," she said. "If national costs go up 20 percent, our clients experience increases of half that because they control their costs."
"Employers have done just about everything they can to lower their health care costs," Mischler said. "They’re now seeing what we really have to do is slow down the flow (of patients) into the pipeline. And the only way to do that is to get on the front end with wellness initiatives."
December 17, 2004, Small Business Times, Milwaukee, WI

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Andrew is the editor of BizTimes Milwaukee. He joined BizTimes in 2003, serving as managing editor and real estate reporter for 11 years. A University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate, he is a lifelong resident of the state. He lives in Muskego with his wife, Seng, their son, Zach, and their dog, Hokey. He is an avid sports fan and is a member of the Muskego Athletic Association board of directors.

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