Chicago Pushing ‘Wellness’ Program on Its Employees

By Susan Jones | August 24, 2012 | 12:02 PM EDT

Chicago skyline (AP Photo)

( - Sign up or pay up. The City of Chicago is urging its employees and their eligible spouses to join the city's "innovative wellness program," or else pay an additional $50 a month for their health care plan.

"Our program will change lives, make our workforce healthier, and save taxpayers money," Mayor Rahm Emanuel said on Thursday. "It will only work if people join, and I'm so pleased to report that we've had well over 22,000 employees or spouses join the program."

Emanuel noted that another 25,000 have not yet let the city know if they plan to join; and so far, 54 employees or spouses have refused.

Chicago Lives Healthy provides free annual health screenings, physical and mental health checkups, call-ins, and “wellness activities” for employees. The city calls it the largest municipal wellness program in the world.

The first step, the sign-up period, runs through Aug. 31. Starting on Sept. 10, employees will begin their free biometric screenings (including blood work), which can be scheduled during work hours at Walgreens outlets or at a doctor’s office.

The third step is a "Well-Being Assessment" – described as "a confidential questionnaire that assesses life and environmental factors that are critical to your health, well-being and your ability to improve both." The assessment consists of 60 questions "to get a better sense of factors that can't be tested." Those factors include one’s health history, mental health, stress, and "barriers to change."

Starting in mid-October, participants will receive a “check-in call” from a disease-management company; and “wellness activities” – tailored to an individual’s needs -- must be performed every month, starting Nov. 1.

Participants will be asked to complete at least 15 minutes of wellness activities each month. Those activities range from classes to events to online tools designed to help them reach their wellness goals. The activities will be tracked online.

“Continued engagement is critical for driving improved health and wellness outcomes—that's why the Chicago Lives Healthy wellness program requires ongoing interaction from all participants,” the website says.

“A successful wellness program with active participation from eligible employees, covered spouses/domestic partners/civil union spouses is a way we can all work together to improve our health while maintaining high value health care benefits at a reasonable cost to employees.”

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