Health plans don’t just pay the bills – they can help keep you healthy

(ARA) – Many people think of their health insurer or health plan as the company that pays their medical bills when they get sick or visit the doctor. They may not realize that their health plan can be so much more – a place to find health and wellness programs that can help them stay healthy or help manage ongoing medical conditions such as diabetes or heart disease.

More employers are recognizing the value of helping their employees remain healthy, productive and on the job, so they offer health coaching and other wellness programs as part of their health benefits plan. The good news for employees and their families is that many of these programs are free to use.

For example, global health service company Cigna has health coaching programs that can help people quit tobacco, manage stress, maintain a healthy weight, develop better eating habits, become more active and even sleep better.

“Everyone is different, so we treat each customer as an individual. For some, telephonic coaching works best, for others it’s face-to-face, while other people prefer an online experience. We let people choose the method that works best for them,” says Rhonda Toole, wellness program director for Cigna.

Understanding each person’s internal motivators also spells success, according to Toole. “We don’t tell people what behavior they should change,” she says. “It’s more effective to help them identify what’s important to them and why they want to change; and then help them determine the small steps they can take, one at a time, to help them achieve their health goals, whether that’s to stop smoking, lose 15 pounds or develop healthier eating habits.”

Cigna calls this “Care Coaching,” and all of the company’s coaches are trained in this approach.

A health plan might also have programs that focus on lifelong health conditions, such as diabetes or heart disease, that can help people manage them and keep them from getting worse. Cigna’s Your Health First program for chronic conditions is based on the Care Coaching model that helps people identify their individual health goals and internal motivations for staying healthy.

“When coaches focus on what’s important to the individual and what will work for the individual, people will be more successful at sticking to a plan. They’re more likely to remain engaged and achieve their health and wellness goals,” Toole says.

Health coaches have degrees and professional expertise in a wide range of related fields, such as public health, exercise science, counseling, wellness, health education and nutrition. Many are nurses.

Another place that people can turn to for help is their employer-sponsored employee assistance program (EAP), which might be offered through a health plan or separately. Like health coaching, EAP services are free to the employee and they’re completely confidential. An EAP can provide short-term counseling for stress, depression or substance abuse, and counselors can refer people to longer-term services when needed. EAPs can also help people find child care or elder care, and help connect people to financial or legal services.

“Many employees overlook their EAP, but these programs can help people restore their work/life balance and can save them hours and hours of time when they need to find services like child care,” says Ken LeBeau, director of employee assistance programs for Cigna. “If your employer offers an EAP, use it! It’s there to help you.”
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