Weight-loss program advised for state staff

Enrollment in an online weight-loss program for state and public school employees would triple, at a cost of about $1.7 million, under a committee recommendation made Friday.

The benefits subcommittee of State and Public School Life and Health Insurance Board recommended the increased enrollment after hearing about the results on an initial group of 2,148 employees in the program, offered by Dallas-based ACAP Health, in May.

Among the 792 participants who reported their weight last week, the 10th week of the program, the average person had lost 8.6 pounds, said Austin Wilcox, the company’s vice president of business and product development.

Although the weight of those who didn’t report isn’t known, the company’s experience in other states has shown that the weight loss among those who drop out is typically similar to that of those who are still participating, he said.

Instead of changing what people eat, the company says it focuses on teaching them skills, such as eating more slowly and only when they’re hungry.

“Once people have these skills, they travel really well,” Wilcox said. “It’s not like once you leave the program, the skills leave you.”

Claudia Moran, the subcommittee’s chairman, said she was among the first group of participants.

“It was successful for me,” she said. “I’ve always been pretty active, but I really felt like it was really a good way to think about things that was not having to change what I’m eating every day.”

The program is aimed at reducing obesity-related health care costs paid by the plans, which cover about 45,000 school employees and 26,000 state employees, along with employees’ family members and retirees.

A survey last year of health plan members and their spouses found that 43.7 percent were obese based on their reported height and weight.

By contrast, a survey by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2016 found that 35.7 percent of Arkansas adults were considered obese, giving the state the third-highest rate of adult obesity in the country.

The weight-loss program offers about 30 to 40 minutes per week of video tutorials, in 5- to 7-minute segments, aimed at changing people’s eating habits.

Participants must answer a series of questions and log their weight before watching the videos, Wilcox said.

They can also get advice online or over the phone from health coaches, communicate online with other participants and download a mobile app they can use to track their progress, according to Sandy Schenck, ACAP Health’s director of business development and product strategy.

Although the program lasts a full year, the plans are only billed for a maximum of 17 weeks per participant: $38.50 for the first 10 weeks and $25 for the next seven, for a maximum of $560 per participant, Schenck told the subcommittee earlier this year.

The average enrollee participates for about seven weeks, at a cost of about $280, he said.

He said the company is considered an in-network provider by Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield, which processes the plans’ medical claims. The plans are not billed for weeks when an enrollee doesn’t participate, he said.

The board in April approved a pilot project allowing 1,000 school employees and 1,000 state employees to enroll on a first-come, first-served basis.

ACAP Health allowed an additional 400 people to enroll at no cost to the plans. Among the initial group of 2,400 enrollees, 243 never participated, Wilcox said.

Out of those who did participate, 732 people did so for all 10 weeks, and an additional 319 participated during eight or nine of those weeks.

Under the recommendation approved Friday, an additional 3,000 school employees or retirees and 3,000 state employees or retirees would be allowed to enroll in late September.

Based on the results from the first two groups, the board can consider whether to open enrollment to additional groups, said Chris Howlett, the director of the Department of Finance and Administration’s Employee Benefits Division.

The recommendation will go to the full board, which meets Aug. 21.

Metro on 08/11/2018

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