Ounce of Preventive Medicine; ... May Be Worth a Pound of Cure in Cutting the Costs of Health Care

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Byline: JEREMY COX

Employees usually don't use their health insurance unless they get sick.

From an employer's perspective, there are at least a couple problems with that: By then, their medical costs are at their highest, and their performance at work is going to suffer, assuming they're well enough to show up at all.

A Jacksonville company is at the forefront of a growing movement supported by key lawmakers and health industry leaders that turns health care upside down - keeping people well so they don't get ill in the first place.

"This is a perfect solution for a perfect time," said Daniel Tillotson, CEO of U.S. Preventive Medicine. "Employers are looking at their health costs and realizing they have to do something about it."

Although health experts debate whether preventive measures actually lead to cost savings, 30 employers have signed on to one of Preventive Medicine's plans since the company's inception four years ago. The firm expects to add 11 accounts by the end of the year, doubling its membership to nearly 40,000 people nationwide.

Jim Marlier is the CEO of GT Leasing, a Jacksonville company that leases fleets of vehicles. A year ago, he issued an ultimatum of sorts to his 15 employees: Participate in the Preventive Medicine plan or start paying a share of your health insurance premium. Marlier offered the new plan for free.

So far, no one has turned down the offer. And everyone has met their individual health objectives, as set forth by a Preventive Medicine software program that incorporates a patient's medical history and blood test results.

Marlier was sold on the plan because it "makes sure they're getting good medical care and that they're taking care of themselves," he said. "Also, in the long run, it will help keep down my insurance costs."

Keeping runaway insurance costs in check is one of the central aims of the health care reform debate in Congress. Family premiums for employer-sponsored health insurance have soared 33 percent since 2003, to a national average of nearly $12,298 a year, according to a Commonwealth Fund study released in August. Costs rose faster over that time period in Florida, where rates jumped 36 percent to $12,697.

One of the biggest advocates of prevention is President Barack Obama.

Speaking with a group of business executives last May, Obama urged companies to adopt policies that promote better health among their workers. As part of Medicaid and Medicare payment reform efforts, Congress should consider adding incentives for beneficiaries to participate in wellness programs, he added.

Prevention's time has come, said Fred Goldstein, Preventive Medicine's president. He has been lobbying hard over the past year in Washington, D. …