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WKU’s revamped benefits plan receives national recognition

WKU’s revamped health benefits program has earned national recognition for Kari Aikins, assistant director of Human Resources.

Kari Aikins

Kari Aikins

Aikins was named to Business Insurance’s 2015 Benefits Management Honor Roll. Business Insurance, the authoritative news and information source for executives concerned about risk and the impact on their business, profiled Aikins in its June 22 issue.

“It is nice to have what we did validated by a national organization,” said Tony Glisson, director of Human Resources. “Kari played a prominent role from strategy development through implementation. Her skilled efforts included a comprehensive education and communication plan focused on the WKU workforce, and considered absolutely critical for success. While our changes for 2015 were complex and extensive, Kari was poised and untiring until the last steps were taken.”

WKU’s self-insured benefits program serves about 2,300 employees.

“Every component of our health plan changed for 2015, and it was the first major change in our program since 2003,” Glisson said.

WKU worked with Sibson Consulting to develop the new program that replaced WKU’s preferred provider organization plan with a health savings account high-deductible plan and two health reimbursement arrangement PPO plans.

“The whole point of it was to get people more involved in the decision-making part of health care and health promotion and maintenance, ” Glisson said. “Wellness integration was a huge part of our plan.”

Goals for the revamped benefits program included complying with the Affordable Care Act, helping control costs, improving wellness options, increasing employee engagement and creating a healthy campus culture.

In its profile, Business Insurance noted that Aikins’ background in communication prepared her for the challenges associated with developing and implementing the new benefits program.

Aikins received her bachelor’s degree in Organizational Communication from Murray State University and her master’s in Communication from WKU. She also is a Certified Senior Professional in Human Resources (CPHR) and a Certified Compensation Professional (CCP).

“I’ve never been interested in having a single functional responsibility,” Aikins told Business Insurance. “I like to think about human resources as being a very fluid organization. Instead of separating health care, retirement and compensation, I want us to talk more about the whole life cycle of our employees’ careers at Western Kentucky University.”

Wellness program showing positive results

The wellness integration into the benefits plan is having a positive impact on employees’ health.

WKU launched a comprehensive wellness program in January 2013 which achieved respectable employee engagement the first two years with modest incentives. The wellness program and incentives were integrated in the health plan design in 2015 and employee engagement increased dramatically. Spouses/partners participating in the health plan were also included in the wellness program in 2015.

“Is the wellness program making a difference? The answer for WKU is yes,” said Wade Pinkard, Employee Wellness Manager. “We’ve seen a dramatic increase in engagement in our program and health improvement in the population.”

The population-based design addresses both needs and interests of individuals across the health risk continuum and includes best-practice components such as health assessment and screenings, health education/promotion activities and lifestyle and chronic condition management programs. LiveHealthier, WKU’s wellness vendor, provides many of the services remotely. On-campus programs and activities are provided through community partners.

A report from LiveHealthier shows that more participants are taking advantage of the health assessment (86.7 percent compared to 50 percent last year); biometric screenings (86.6 percent compared to 44.8 percent); phone coaching (61.4 percent compared to 49.8 percent) and online coaching (8.5 percent compared to 7.8 percent).

Employees are also showing strong interest in the on-campus programs and activities; for example, Weight Watchers At Work (342 participants lost 4,312 pounds in a 12-week series this spring); Freedom From Smoking Program (eight of 20 enrollees this spring quit smoking); Cardiovascular Health and Vaccines Seminar (213 attendees); and Spring Retirement Week Sessions (345 attendees).

The report also shows improvement in population health status. Without intervention, employees naturally migrate from low-risk (0-2 risks) to moderate-risk (3-4 risks) or high-risk (5+ risks) over time. That’s not been the case at WKU. In fact, the proportion of participants in the low-risk group increased by 5 percentage points (66 percent to 71 percent) while employees in the moderate-risk group decreased 5 percentage points (24 percent to 19 percent) after just two years of programming. Additionally, the average number of health risks per participant dropped from 2.2 to 2.0 (or 9 percent reduction) over the same two-year period.

“Both of these are clear indicators that the program is having a positive effect on the health status of our employees,” Pinkard said.

Feedback has been positive for the incentive programs, especially Weight Watchers and smoking cessation, Glisson said.

“The absolute dedication, leadership, knowledge and competency of Kari, Wade and the benefits team enabled us to make these necessary changes, which were affirmed by national recognition,” he said.

Contact: Kari Aikins, (270) 745-5346

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