Livestock feed manufacturer reduces health care premiums by 4% with wellness

Ralco employees enjoying healthy snacks at work

The Ralco Challenge 2009 Walking Program was born when Jon Knochenmus, president of the Marshall-based livestock feed manufacturer concluded that many years of double-digit annual increases for health insurance had become unsustainable. He decided to fight back through employee wellness.

Ralco started with a simple message: walking is good for your health. Each of its employees received bright green pedometers to count the number of steps they took each day. With participation from 90 percent of the company’s 120 employees, the hot green pedometers created buzz in the community. HR manager Shelly Gniffke  even received requests for pedometers from non-Ralco employees.  By the end of the 6-week program employees had tracked a total of 38,241,565 steps, roughly 14,500 miles – more than half way around the world.

The Steps Competition motivated employees to walk to the convenience store or the bank during break time – with green pedometers proudly on their belts – instead of hopping in the car as usual.  “It was a fun thing, says Gniffke. “By noon we’d be comparing the steps we had so far. It really did was it was designed to do, get more people thinking about taking more steps in a day.”

Ralco built on the walking program with a variety of other wellness programs. It restructured health benefits, became partially self-insured and offered an array of programs and incentives.

Employees earn $300 toward their Health Savings Account (HSA) for completing a Health Risk Assessment (HRA) and a $100 incentive for reducing risk factors or maintaining low risk levels from year to year. They get $50 to participate in the company’s physical activity challenge and each member of the winning team receives an additional $50 deposited in their HSA.

Gniffke says the financial incentives are essential for employees who need extra motivation to get on board. There’s also a balance that must be struck between affordable and effective incentives. “If you only give them ten bucks, its not going to work,” Gniffke added.

But the financial rewards go beyond HSA contributions for employees. Ralco’s health insurance premiums this year will decrease by four percent due to their aggregate biometric screening information and some creative plan design. “When we keep our increases down, we feel like we can invest more in wellness,” says Gniffke.

Of Ralco’s senior leadership, Gniffke says, “They’ve been really supportive, understanding what it’s going to take and investing in the health of our employees.” Employee wellness is a good investment for Ralco.


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