MN Delegates Put Workplace Wellness on Nat’l Agenda

Amy Klobuchar, Erik Paulsen, and two other Congressional leaders have created a bipartisan caucus that will help employers find the most effective ways to support health among their employees.

Two members of Minnesota's Congressional delegation have launched a wellness caucus that will investigate and share the cost reduction and productivity-enhancing benefits of workplace wellness.

Senator Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat, and Republican Representative Erik Paulsen-along with Senator John Thune of South Dakota and Representative Ron Kind of Wisconsin-are co-chairing the bipartisan caucus, which aims to help employers find the most effective ways to support health among their employees.

“It's great to see Minnesota businesses leading the way nationally to support employees living healthy lives,” Klobuchar said in a statement.

According to the Minnesota Department of Health, employers with workplace wellness programs experience a 25 percent average reduction in sick leave, health-plan costs, Workers' Compensation costs, and disability costs.

Additionally, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report indicates that 75 percent of employers' health-care costs are related to employee lifestyle choices. Companies that sponsor health and wellness programs get a return on their investment of between $3 and $6 for every dollar they spend over a two- to five-year period, according to the CDC.

The announcement about the caucus was made at Bloomington-based Apogee Enterprises, an architectural glass company that has about 20 work sites in 11 states and employs about 3,300. The company began implementing workplace health initiatives in 2008-and current offerings include a health assessment, on-site biometric screenings, weight-loss contests, physical activity challenges with incentives, and healthy food options in the office.

“We have growing participation among employees in our wellness initiatives, leading to a healthier work force and helping us to better manage health-care costs,” Apogee CEO Russ Huffer said in a statement.

More than 360 Minnesota employers, which collectively employ 138,000 employees, are currently taking advantage of the Statewide Health Improvement Program, a part of a 2008 state health reform package that offers resources and assistance to help Minnesotans prevent tobacco and obesity.

The Alliance for a Healthier Minnesota (AHM)-a public-private partnership that includes companies that have joined to help Minnesotans get healthy and stay healthy-has rallied behind the caucus.

“We've heard from employers throughout the state that their rising health-care costs are unsustainable and they want to do something about it,” AHM President Tom Mason said in a statement. “It's exciting to see Congressional leaders taking on this issue in a way that will use the market to help reform health care.”

Companies in AHM include Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota, Cargill, General Mills, Medica, Medtronic, The Midwest Dairy Association, Target, and UnitedHealth Group. This spring, 22,000 Minnesotans collectively lost 76,048 pounds in the Biggest Loser Minnesota Challenge, a free, 12-week wellness competition sponsored by AHM.