Colorado Springs Gazette
September 28, 2009
PILOT PROGRAM HELPS CITY WORKERS TAKE CONTROL OF THEIR DIABETES
BY BRIAN NEWSOME
Colorado Springs city employees with diabetes have seen improved health markers and saved money through a national pilot program designed to help people take more responsibility for their health.
More than 60 city employees saw a significant drop in their bad cholesterols and their A1C levels, a key measure of blood sugars, according to a recently published study on the program.
At the same time, the employees saved an average of about $372 in copays for diabetic drugs and supplies.
The city is among 10 cities and 30 employers that participated in The Diabetes 10 City Challenge, conducted by the American Pharmacists Association Foundation. The program is ongoing, but the study focused on people who participated in the program from 2006 to 2007.
The program works like this: An employer waives copays on all diabetes-related drugs and supplies such as insulin and testing strips. In exchange, the participant agrees to meet monthly with a pharmacist coach who goes over his or her health status and offers advice on nutrition, exercise and drugs.
The concept of personal responsibility and prevention is widely regarded as a key part of reining in health care costs, yet its effectiveness has been hard to quantify in studies. William M. Ellis, chief executive officer of the pharmacists association, hopes the results of this program will help change that.
"We feel pretty good that this approach has contributed to some new thinking in how health care benefits are designed around the country," he said.
Other cities in the program had results comparable to those in Colorado Springs, he said. The association did not rank cities against one another, but overall, participants saw improvements in blood-sugar levels, cholesterol and blood pressure.
Colorado Springs began offering the benefit to employees in 2006. Of the 338 eligible diabetics, 126 signed up. Sixty two were included in the study published earlier this year in the Journal of American Pharmacists Association.
The study found that the employees' medical costs went from $4,404 in 2006 to $3,281 in 2007, said Mark Cauthen, who oversees the city's benefits and wellness team. Spending on medications, by contrast, went up, from $3,553 to $4,366, as people took more control of their diabetes. That led to an average savings of $310.
Yet compared to the estimated cost of $8,881 for an unmanaged diabetic, the savings could be as much as $1,234, Cauthen said.
Perhaps the biggest financial incentive, though, is increased productivity and less sick leave.
"If people are feeling better when they're at work, then their production goes up," Cauthen said.
The city paid a fee of $166 per employee for them to participate in the program in the first year, in addition to the waived copays. That fee dropped to $83 by the third year, Cauthen said.
Dee Brown, 49, who works in the city's communication office, was one of the first to sign up. After being diagnosed as either diabetic or pre-diabetic a year before and getting conflicting information from physicians, she was full of questions. The coaching, she said, helped her understand the disease and how to control it.
"I think there's a point of panic that strikes you," she said about the diagnosis, adding that there’s comfort in having someone to walk you through it.
Her coach was Tammy Lopez, the city's in-house pharmacy director and one of two pharmacists who have coached the city employees.
"I'm kind of their personal motivator," Lopez said. Sessions can cover a wide array of topics from counting carbohydrates to exercising, but Lopez believes the success lies in accountability and engagement. "They know they're going to see me," she said.