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SJE-Rhombus wins health cost battle

Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) talks about the how programs such as SJE-Rhombus' wellness program will be vital as health care reform takes shape. (Jason Adkins/DL Newspapers)1 / 2
Former Minnesota Senate Majority Leader Roger Moe presents the 2009 Partnership to Fight Chronic Disease's "Promising Practices" award to SJE-Rhombus CEO Laurie Lewandowski.2 / 2

Health care is costing employers and employees alike more and more each year.

Recognizing the steps companies are taking to manage skyrocketing health care costs, the Partnership to Fight Chronic Disease presented SJE-Rhombus in Detroit Lakes with a "Promising Practices" award Tuesday for making wellness and prevention a key aspect of the company's strategic business plan.

The national Partnership to Fight Chronic Disease organization is a coalition of more than 110 businesses, labor organizations, employees, health-care companies and faith-based organizations.

U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) and former Minnesota Senate Majority Leader Roger Moe, co-chair of the Minnesota Partnership to Fight Chronic Disease, were present to help congratulate SJE-Rhombus in its efforts.

"We can show how we can compare our success with other businesses and companies around the country," Moe said.

Moe said that 75 percent of health care costs go toward managing chronic conditions.

That's the driving force for SJE-Rhombus' reduction in health insurance costs. The company saw a 31.5 percent reduction in claims in 2007.

That meant a savings of $160,000 for SJE-Rhombus, 40 percent of which was returned to employee health savings accounts.

Savings continued last year, as the health insurance cost per employee was 36 percent lower than the national average.

SJE-Rhombus hopes to continue on the path to lower health care costs: It will implement an incentive plan that will be biometric based. Employees hope to improve their blood pressure, body mass index, cholesterol levels and lower tobacco use.

The company already has a system in place to encourage healthy eating habits and exercise. There is a 24-hour on-site fitness facility, indoor and outdoor walking paths, and a basketball court.

Peterson said that with major health care reform coming down the Congressional pipeline, businesses need to have incentives to cut costs.

"What I hope to see is an incentive plan so that companies are rewarded for the work they do," he said.

He said that a socialized system without rewards for encouraging health habits won't help reduce costs.

Minnesota Chamber of Commerce Vice President Jennifer Byers said that the Partnership to Fight Chronic Disease effort shows what can be accomplished without government regulation.

"Many corporations can do these things that help cut costs without government mandates and regulations," Byers said.