Washington state government is taking a giant step to improve its employee wellness programs under an ambitious plan outlined in a new Executive Order by Governor Jay Inslee.
"Preventing illness is the best way to improve health and save money on health care," said Gov. Inslee. "I'm committed to doing everything I can to help the people of our state live longer, healthier lives. This executive order makes the health and wellness of state employees a priority, and sets the tone for government agencies and businesses around the state."
The state's commitment to a healthier workforce may also be good news for taxpayers. A wellness program for King County employees included a similar focus on healthy eating and other preventive health components. It led to a $14.6 million reduction in health care spending from 2007 to 2011.
Under the governor's order, a State Employee Health and Wellness Steering Committee will be formed to develop a comprehensive wellness program for state employees for implementation by January 1, 2014. The committee will be co-chaired by Health Care Authority Director Dorothy Teeter and Secretary of Health John Wiesman.
Executive Order No. 13-06 focuses on three key areas to improve health: providing wellness assistance to all state agencies so they can create their own effective wellness programs, incorporating wellness in state employee health insurance plans, and requiring state agencies to develop and implement healthy food and beverage policies.
The new Wellness Worksite Designation Program will provide technical and training assistance to state agencies, helping them develop wellness programs for their employees. All agencies will report on their efforts every six months, with a goal of significant progress by the end of 2014. As part of the order, agencies also must accommodate women who breastfeed by providing reasonable break times and a location free from view and intrusion.
The steering committee will work with the Health Care Authority's Public Employees Benefits Division (PEB) to integrate the employee wellness program with employee health insurance. Examples include a new Diabetes Prevention Program and assistance for employees who want to quit using tobacco.
The Executive Order also directs state executive agencies to adopt and implement a food and beverage service policy by December 31, 2016. Agency policies must ensure healthful food and beverages in vending machines, cafeterias, onsite retail establishments, at meetings and events, and institutional food service when applicable. A priority will be placed on providing Washington-grown products whenever possible.
Dorothy Teeter, director of the Health Care Authority, said she is eager to move ahead on the governor's order, which opens a new frontier in employee benefits.
"For too long we have regarded medical insurance coverage as only being the employer's responsibility," Teeter said. "We need to look more broadly at the overall structure of wellness and prevention -- healthy habits, healthy diet and a commitment to fitness. These are the true elements of building a healthier state workforce."
State Department of Health Secretary John Wiesman said, "Healthy behavior plays a big role in overall health, yet we have to make it easier for people to make healthy choices. This is a good start. When employees have access to healthy foods, wellness programs, and preventive services they have a much better chance of living longer, healthier lives. It's good for all of us, and saves on health care costs, too."
The Executive Order includes some exceptions: services or programs that are mandated by federal law or rules, special populations with health or religious dietary needs, Department of Veterans Affairs, Military Department, and training programs in criminal justice or parks. The nutrition portion of the order also does not extend to emergency rations during a disaster or other crisis.
While the order does not apply directly to higher education or other levels of government in the state, Inslee said he encourages all member agencies in PEB to participate.