Obama Cites Safeway Among Workplace Health Innovators

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Obama Cites Safeway Among Workplace Health Innovators

Calling Safeway president and CEO Steven Burd one “of the best practitioners of prevention and wellness programs in the private sector,” President Barack Obama met with top executives from the retail sector and other industries to discuss innovative ideas that are being implemented in the workplace to improve the health of workers and reduce the rising rate of health care spending.

Yesterday’s meeting with officials from Pleasanton, Calif.-based Safeway -- which also included four other employers, a state health department, and a union -- followed what the White House described as a “landmark meeting” on Monday between the president and an array of leaders in the health care field -- insurance companies, hospitals, pharmaceutical companies, medical device manufacturers, and providers -- which pledged to work together to control costs in health care to the tune of $2 trillion in savings over the next 10 years.

This week’s meetings stem from the president direction to the Office of Personnel Management to work with the Office of Health Reform, the National Economic Council, the Department of Labor, and the Office of Management and Budget to examine successful employer wellness and prevention practices that lower health care costs and improve employees’ health, and to explore the possibilities of developing a plan for federal employees and their workplaces.

More generally, the discussion was designed to expand on the theme that the health care system in America needs comprehensive reform, including a much greater focus on wellness and prevention. In his closing remarks after Tuesday’s meeting, the president said the sessions accomplished the goals of gathering “stories and best practices” to further spur “the health care reform discussions that take place here in Washington,” and in turn implement the proven effective measures “for the country as a whole."

“You have companies like Safeway that have been able to hold their costs flat for their employees at a time when other companies are seeing double-digit inflation in their health care,” President Obama said while praising the grocery chain’s innovative employee health care and wellness programs.

During the session, Safeway and its chief executive, Steve Burd, were singled out for an innovative benefits program designed to reward employees’ healthy behaviors and improve adherence to recommended treatments for chronic diseases. Over 74 percent of Safeway’s 30,000 nonunion workers have signed up for the "Healthy Measures" program, for which participants undergo screening tests (including cholesterol, blood pressure and weight control); employees who score well pay lower health premiums. Safeway has saved millions by making employees accountable for their weight, smoking, cholesterol and blood pressure. The company also has a free fitness center at its headquarters, offers gym membership discounts and provides a 24-hour nurse health hotline. In 2006, Safeway’s efforts reduced its total health care spending by 13 percent, and employees who signed up have saved more than 20 percent on their premiums.

Aside from Safeway’s Burd, other workforce innovators who met with the president to discuss health-and-wellness best practices included Jerry Reeves of the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees International Union (H.E.R.E.I.U.) Welfare Fund; Bill Weldon, chairman/CEO, Johnson & Johnson; Cecily Hall, director of U.S. benefits for Microsoft; Alvin Jackson, director, Ohio Department of Health; Murray Martin, chairman/president/CEO, Pitney Bowes; and Sally Jewell, president/CEO, Recreational Equipment, Inc (REI).