Wellness is more than a human-resources buzzword or popular medical movement at Horan Associates. The Cincinnati-based firm is in the business of advising companies on the benefits they offer to workers.

"We have to be on the forefront of what's going on in the marketplace so we can walk the talk," says Valerie Bogdan-Powers, vice president of group operations.

Five years ago, Horan Associates implemented a wellness program for its 80 employees that has gradually evolved from making workers aware of their health status to motivating them to take responsibility for it. Today employees have to participate in activities such as annual biometric screenings to qualify for the lowest possible premiums in the company's high-deductible health plan. They also have to lower or eliminate risk factors for chronic controllable conditions such as obesity and diabetes.

"We want to reward our employees," Bogdan-Powers says. "But we also want to help our employees understand there are things they need to do and own."

Horan Associates is an example of the companies that benefit from ERC. Fully insured health-insurance programs for small- and medium-sized businesses are offered by the Ohio-based professional-service organization.

Although ERC Health has only been available to mid-sized Cincinnati-area businesses since July, the plans have been servicing small Queen City counterparts since 2007 and companies in other areas of the state for a dozen years. The coverage, underwritten by United Healthcare for groups of 2 to 50 employees and by Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield for groups of 51 to 500 workers, offers substantial premium savings to employers promoting wellness in their organizations as well as the resources to continue or improve their efforts. It also provides access to all major healthcare systems in the area, including Mercy Health, The Christ Hospital, TriHealth and UC Health.

"In the traditional health-insurance program in the general market, better-performing companies don't necessarily get rewarded for excellent performance "” that's why we started ERC Health," says ERC president Pat Perry.

"Not only do we have better-performing companies in our pools, but we have an awful lot of health-management, wellness and health-education programs that our [members] access to enhance employee knowledge of benefit programs and provide significant tools on healthy lifestyle behavior changes."

Horan Associates is not only a group member of ERC Health, it also markets the coverage to clients. According to Bogdan-Powers, Horan signed up for the plan in July because it supports and recognizes the company's own wellness philosophy. "We thought it was a very unique idea," she says.

She rattles off ERC Health perks such as a health coach who meets with employees monthly and conducts 12-week weight-loss programs and lunchtime health seminars. (Perry adds annual on-site screenings, free fitness-club memberships for employees and benefits-management consultations for employers to the list.) Horan also liked the tiered renewal rates based on an employer's individual medical loss ratio and the opportunity to see the data that determines it.

"When you're under 100 employees, you usually don't see that much data about how your plan is running," Bogdan-Powers says.

According to Perry, group members' annual premium adjustments are two to four percentage points below general market increases, depending on the year.

"Our best-performing organizations, particularly in the middle market, are getting zeros "” in other words, no increases," he says.

He adds that a company doesn't have to be as far down the road to wellness as Horan Associates to enjoy such perks. He describes his ERC Health candidate as a firm whose employees are thoroughly familiar with their health-insurance coverage and use it prudently.

"They're not going to the emergency room for a cold, they're asking for generic medications, they're doing their preventive exams and so forth," he says.

"That's an organization that is definitely increasing the probability that their claims are better than average." -