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It’s Not Just About the Money

The importance of wellness in retirement.

What is wellness and what does it have to do with retirement planning? That’s what I wondered when I heard the topic of the For Your Benefit radio program that I was asked to co-host earlier this week. Once I understood the definition, it makes perfect sense. As my dad used to say, take care of your health. Without it, money (and retirement) won’t really matter.

Paula Jakub, executive vice president and CEO of the American Foreign Service Protective Association, was our guest on the show, and she wanted to focus on wellness. Jakub oversees the various insurance and specialty programs offered by the association. If you visit the Foreign Service Benefit Plan website, you’ll see its commitment to helping participants maintain their health and well-being. They’ll reward you financially if you take the time to participate in opportunities to maintain and improve your health. What’s in it for them? Fewer claims. What’s in it for you? Better health and fitness—and possibly some money in your wallet.

Many other plans in the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program do the same thing, and the Office of Personnel Management encourages them. “The leading causes of death and disability in the United States are not only preventable but also responsive to workplace interventions,” OPM says. “Worksite health and wellness programs help employees modify their lifestyles and move toward an optimal state of wellness.”

In its 2018 program carrier letter sent to all FEHBP plans, OPM announced it would expect health insurance carriers to promote wellness initiatives in the upcoming FEHBP open season (which runs from Nov. 12 to Dec. 10, 2018), along with efforts such as addressing the opioid crisis by monitoring pain management, modifying cost-sharing for high-value and low-value benefits, and reducing the cost of specialty medications.

According to OPM, one of the goals of FEHBP is to pursue ways to restrain rising health care costs while providing opportunities for members to live healthier lives. This includes programs to help control high blood pressure, diabetes and hospital readmissions. OPM also recognizes the importance of genetic testing to diagnose and optimize treatment that can improve outcomes for certain medical conditions. The agency measures whether carriers are addressing these priorities.

Federal employees as well as retirees who are covered under FEHBP can learn more about wellness and ways to maintain good health at the program’s website. You can compare wellness benefits by visiting your health plan’s site or opening the plan brochure and searching for the keyword “wellness.”

Here are some specific steps you can take to maintain or improve your health and well-being through many FEHBP plans:

Take a health risk assessment. There’s more information in section 5.H of the FEHBP brochure site. Health plans often provide a financial incentive to get this done, sometimes as much as $75-$100.

Undergo biometric screening. This involves getting a wellness exam that usually includes some lab work. Many health plans will pay you an incentive to have this done, too—$50-$75 or more.

Use free or discounted services. These include weight management, smoking cessation classes, stress management, fitness tracking and gym memberships. These also can involve financial incentives. Usually the rewards are used for out-of-pocket qualified medical expenses and to pay for health-related items.

Take action. Work with your health plan and providers to fix or improve any medical conditions that are identified.

Retirement planning is often focused on ensuring your financial well-being, but your physical wellness is what can make retirement the best and possibly longest chapter of your life.

Photo: Visit Lakeland, via Flickr