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Univera parent Excellus named one of 'Healthiest Companies'

Excellus Health Plan, the Rochester-based parent of Univera Healthcare, was named among the "Healthiest Companies in America" after its own in-house wellness program helped hundreds of employees get healthier.

The award from Interactive Health Solutions Inc. recognized the insurer for "creating a culture of wellness" and for getting many of its employees to voluntarily participate in proactive health screenings and wellness programs, according to a company news release.

Excellus was among 70 companies recognized by IHS, a provider of employee health management programs that worked with the insurer to screen thousands of its employees in 2010 and 2011 to assess their risk for health problems. As an incentive, those who participated received rebates in their paychecks toward cost-sharing for their health benefits.

Employees received confidential information about their blood pressure, cholesterol and other measures and conditions, and were encouraged to work with their doctor or health coaches to improve. The award is based on improvements in health among employees from one screening to the next, as 500 employees lowered bad cholesterol, almost 300 lowered their glucose levels and more than 400 lowered triglycerides.

"We know that wellness programs hold many benefits for employees and employers, such as increasing productivity and potentially reducing long-term health care costs," said Univera Chief Medical Officer Dr. Richard Vienne.

"But the most gratifying aspects of the program were the countless stories from employees that the screening was the catalyst they needed to improve their health."

About 3,400 employees -- 83 percent of those who were eligible -- participated in the 2011 screening.

Three of four employees had low risks of developing serious health problems, but some were at risk of chronic conditions.

"Some employees needed immediate medical attention, and many were unaware that they had a medical condition that increased their risk for diabetes, stroke and heart disease," Vienne said.

The health insurer is piloting the wellness program with its own employees across the state before rolling it out to clients.

"It has been very well received. And it is improving health status for many involved," said spokesman Peter Kates, adding that the company wanted to "eat our own cooking" before offering it to others.