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Empowering Employee Health

For supermarket executives, health and wellness is synonymous with employee benefits. To wit:

-Safeway president and CEO Steven Burd has made health care one of his signature issues. He's even talking about a plan to use elements of the chain's consumer-oriented FoodFlex system in the company employee health plan by 2009.

“If someone wants to opt in to demonstrate a nutritious lifestyle, I think we’ll be the first company to grant premium reductions for that,” he said.

-After years of criticism, Wal-Mart has been busy trying to improve the way it insures its 1.4 million U.S. associates. On February 7th, the mega-retailer launched a multi-faceted campaign called “Better Health Care Together.” The announcement includes four "common sense" principles for achieving a new American health care system by 2012, one of which is the ability for consumers to take more responsibility and control over their own health care.

There are other examples out there, and as one of the highest expenses in any company's operating budget, you can bet there will be more. Just this week, Hannaford Bros. signed on with RedBrick Health, a health services company that is spearheading a new area of employee healthcare called Consumer-Owned Health.

Under the Hannaford program, 2,000 company associates who are already enrolled in a health plan will receive augmented support from RedBrick as a way of transitioning them to to take a more active role n their health (read: preventative measures). In this role, RedBrick Health guides employees through plan selection, consolidates multiple sources of health plan data, provides uniform reporting. It's expected that this kind of third-party intervention will save Hannaford big bucks down the road.

This is the next generation of health care, and the supermarket industry — with its army of unskilled, hourly wage earners — is among the first to glimpse it; likewise, companies have the chance to shape policy that's still in not set in stone. Time to get to it.