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Wellness affects medical costs, Annuity Board tells participants

DALLAS (BP)–With the rising costs of health care, medical insurance and prescription drugs, many Southern Baptists are looking for ways to save money and improve their personal health and overall well-being.

Health and well-being took center stage at the Annuity Board of the Southern Baptist Convention in 1998 when the board made significant changes in the administration of its self-funded medical and long-term disability plans. The Annuity Board provides medical coverage for more than 31,500 Southern Baptist pastors, ministers and employees serving in churches and institutions throughout the United States.

Along with the administrative changes came the emphasis of “Focus on Your Well(c)Being.”

“As we made administrative changes in our insurance area, we also decided to change our overall focus from simply providing our participants with life, disability and medical products to becoming an advocate in helping our participants make wise choices about these decisions,” said Doug Day, managing director of the Annuity Board’s Insurance Services Division.

“This emphasis included adding some wellness features to our comprehensive medical plan, stressing preventive care through our quarterly newsletter — Focus on Your Well(c)Being — and offering a health management program through Merck Medco Managed Care, our pharmacy benefit manager. Health and well-being is a trend we hope to see grow among our participants,” Day stated.

An ongoing feature of the health and well-being emphasis is the wellness exhibit at the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting cosponsored by the Annuity Board and LifeWay Christian Resources’ LeaderCare initiative.

This exhibit premiered in 1997 during the SBC in Dallas. More than 1,000 people came through the exhibit during the three-day meeting and completed a short survey about their health habits along with a blood pressure test. The resulting study was not scientific because the participants were not randomly selected, but were pastors and their families.

However, the sample was large enough to suggest trends about health habits within the Southern Baptist Convention. Some results were encouraging, such as no reports of alcohol abuse and almost no reports of tobacco use.

But other trends were not as positive. Most individuals surveyed were heavier and more sedentary than the national average. About half did not eat breakfast daily, and almost a third were not getting enough sleep. A third had high blood pressure, and half were not on medication for this condition. Of those whose cholesterol had previously tested, half reported it was high.

“The 1997 wellness exhibit and survey illustrated what we were seeing in our medical claims and prescription drug expenses,” Day said. “The lifestyle of many of our participants is a hindrance to their overall health and well-being.”

And this trend continues in 2000 with projected costs in the millions for Annuity Board participants in several major categories. Three of the four top expenditures in prescription drugs and medical claims will be in the cardiovascular and circulatory gastroenterology; and respiratory categories.

For example, in the cardiovascular and circulatory area, the Annuity Board is projected to spend more than $20 million this year paying claims and prescription drug costs for people suffering from high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease and other illnesses that fall under this category.

“Changing your lifestyle might not prevent all cardiovascular problems, but there is a relationship between healthy individuals and their medical expenses,” Day said. “Essentially each of us is responsible for our own wellness. We have a personal choice in how we react and change with every experience of life. Research has shown many illnesses could be prevented or delayed by living a healthy lifestyle, and a healthy lifestyle can aid in the recovery from disease.”

The wellness exhibit continues to spotlight health concerns for Southern Baptists during the annual meeting. Each year it is among the convention’s most popular exhibits, with people often waiting up to 45 minutes to go through it.

The services at the exhibit have expanded during the years. Individuals can now get a blood pressure check, blood sugar check and cholesterol test. Also, women can be screened for osteoporosis.

“We always get a great response from the individuals coming through the wellness exhibit,” said Tamara Quintana, the Annuity Board’s employee programs and quality coordinator. “The survey they complete is returned with their estimated health age and some recommendations. We also have medical personnel present to answer questions and review the material with them.

“Since we go to every Southern Baptist Convention, we have people return to thank us for the exhibit and tell us they went to their personal doctor to follow up and have made some lifestyle changes. We believe it is making a difference,” she said.

In addition to medical plans, the Annuity Board offers life, disability and dental insurance. It also endorses a property and casualty program and a long-term care plan.

“The Annuity Board is constantly seeking ways to serve our participants better and offer the best products at a reasonable price. In turn we hope our participants will do their part by adopting good health habits,” Day said. “This benefits the individual and helps keep our plans competitive. It is a joint effort.”

For information about Annuity Board products, call 1-800-262-0511 or visit the board’s Internet site at www.absbc.org.
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at www.bpnews.net. Photo title: CHECK UP.

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  • Jerilynn Armstrong