Health insurance used to be something people utilized only when they were sick, but increasingly insurers are turning that upside down and focusing on keeping their policyholders healthy.

“The way we like to think about it is we have a lifelong relationship with our members from the time they’re born through their senior years,” says Humana Inc. executive John Sinclair. “So we have a vested interest in helping everybody become healthy and helping them achieve lifelong wellbeing.”

One example is HumanaVitality, the Louisville-based insurer’s health and well-being program that allows customers to earn incentives for completing health assessments and engaging in fitness activities. HumanaVitality has been on the market for nearly three years and is gaining momentum with employer health plans, say Humana executives.

“We really want to focus on looking at an employer from a holistic standpoint so we’re not just talking about their medical costs but also about the overall health of their employees,” says Mike Brooks, who was recently named Humana’s market vice president for Ohio and Northern Kentucky.

In that new role, Brooks, who has been in various roles with Humana for 17 years, will be leading Humana’s commercial sales efforts with employers and agents and promoting its health initiatives.

At the same time, Sinclair, formerly Humana’s Ohio market president, has taken on an expanded new role as a regional vice president focusing on strategy and sales team development in 12 states including Ohio and Kentucky.

Brooks says helping employers improve the health of their employees does a couple of things.

“First, it will mean better productivity for the company,” he says. “If you have an engaged, healthy workforce, that will lead, we believe, into a more productive company. Many companies have said they believe they’ll be more competitive in the future as a result.”

In addition, “If we can get the consumer engaged in his or her own health and owning their health numbers,” he says, “they’ll be more excited about coming to work every day.”

Sinclair says Humana’s seen this in action among its own 2,500 employees in Greater Cincinnati who have participated in the company’s various initiatives such as fitness programs, healthy food options and other activities.

“We’re seeing that people who are engaged in improving their health are happier, more productive associates,” he says.

Humana is also putting more wellness coaches on site with employers.

“We hear a lot that employers are interested in wellness and understanding how to manage their population,” says Brooks. “The one thing they really want us to do is help them navigate how to do it.”

Richards Industries, a Hyde Park specialty valve maker, has been one of Humana’s early successes.

The company, which employs 140, achieved 100 percent employee participation in HumanaVitality’s health assessment and biometric screening process. Typically 20 percent participation is considered a success.

Cheryl Neiheisel, Richards’ human resources vice president, says the company went into the program aiming for 100 percent participation, which qualifies it for a 10 percent reduction in its renewal premium.

“It’s our culture,” she says. “We spend a lot of one-on-one time with our people. We sit down with everybody and walk through the program with him or her. A lot of companies won’t do that.”

It resulted in improved health scores for a number of employees.

“After the initial screening, one employee’s numbers came back and he was in the high-risk range,” she says. “He went to work [on his fitness] and came back six months later for another screening. He lost 25 pounds and all his numbers were in the healthy range.”