New Year's resolutions can be tough to keep, but many credit unions are pitching in to help members and employees attain healthy goals, such as reducing debit, losing weight and obtaining affordable health insurance.
Yesterday's staff wellness programs have transformed into today's health and wealth campaigns. Co-ops of all sizes have launched new programs, products and services designed to improve fiscal – and physical – fitness.
Health Savings Accounts, affordable health insurance and interest-free loans for local food are among the new offerings, and co-ops are educating members and employees about important healthcare issues such as Obamacare.
For example, Community Credit Union has a current media campaign explaining that employers cannot require employees to select a particular financial institution for an HSA. The $124 million CCU in Lynn, Mass., is touting its tax-advantaged health savings checking account, which offers a higher interest rate than other area FIs, no minimum balance, real-time online transfers and tools to track medical expenses.
“Consumers are searching for financial institutions that can help them attain long-term goals and guide them through complicated things, such as paying for healthcare,” said Jeff Bartlett, president of Consumer Track Inc. of Los Angeles, which operates GoBankingRates.com. “That's why many credit unions are attracting a great deal of attention by offering things such as health savings accounts for members and exceptional wellness programs for employees.”
To expand health-related programs, experts say, credit unions should review the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which includes incentives for health and wellness initiatives.
There are a number of reasons why companies should look at taking advantage of the ACA provisions, according to a recent study by Virgin HealthMiles.
“Starting in 2014, employers can raise the total amount of financial incentives offered from 20% to 30% of the organization's health care plan costs; the ceiling goes to 50% for smoking cessation programs,” said Chris Boyce, CEO at Virgin HealthMiles. “This allows organizations to raise the financial incentives offered to employees who participate in the program, and can lead to increased savings while gaining the positive return on investment.”
Many credit unions have found creative ways to promote healthier lifestyles.
For instance, five Ohio families are currently vying for $10,000 in Wright-Patt Federal Credit Union's Savings Race 6 – Health & Financial Fitness Edition.
Since the competition-style program began in May, members of the five teams have experienced substantial health improvements, such as losing weight and lowering blood pressure, and saved a total of almost $13,000, the credit union said.
The program, which ends in June, provides free coaching and special challenges to help participants learn how to save better, borrow smarter and create a healthier lifestyle.
Wright-Patt, which partnered with Kettering Health Network, Dayton Children's Hospital and Ronald McDonald House to launch the program, has sponsored the Savings Race for numerous years, but added the physical health aspect this year.
“There is a direct correlation between health and finances, especially when people don't plan ahead, and the number one cause of bankruptcy is medical debt,” said Tracy Fors, vice president of marketing and business development of the $2.6 billion institution in Dayton, Ohio.
“Debt causes stress, which can cause all kinds of health problems. In turn, health problems result in more expense,” she continued. “The idea of the Savings Race 6 - Health and Financial Fitness Edition is to take a preventative approach. Not only will the teams finish the race happier and healthier; they’ll be winners in other ways.”
In addition to a $10,000 grand prize, the credit union is awarding $5,000 for second place, $2,500 for third and $1,500 for fourth and fifth places.
Other programs to improve fiscal and physical wellness are expected to roll out in 2014.
The $564 million Self-Help Federal Credit Union in Durham, N.C. recently received a $3 million grant from the U.S. Department of Treasury's Community Development Financial Institutions Fund to support Self-Help's Healthy Food Lending Initiative.
“The grant will provide essential growth capital to improve the health and quality of life in low-wealth communities, with particular focus on North Carolina,” said David Beck,
Self-Help policy and media director.
“We are particularly seeking to work with borrowers that produce multiple social returns, from improving public health to environmentally sustainable practices to job creation. This includes encouraging borrowers to accept Electronic Benefits Transfer to improve the usability of food assistance, and locating new food businesses in communities with high rates of food assistance use,” he said.
The $377 million UMassFive College Federal Credit Union in Hadley, Mass., already offers special no-interest loans to finance shares at CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) farms and spread payments over six months.
Along with helping members become healthier, many credit unions are earning kudos for employee wellness programs.
Tower Federal Credit Union, which has received awards for wellness innovation and creating a healthy workplace, offers free on-site health fairs, flu shots, blood pressure and cholesterol screenings and “Lunch & Learn” sessions for employees.
Tower's “Wealth of Wellness” program also gives staff members free access to a fitness center and health services room at the $2.6 billion co-op's Laurel, Md., headquarters.
“We strive to promote a healthy and active lifestyle for all of our employees,” said Martin Breland, Tower's CEO/president. “Wellness is not just a word, it's a way of life at Tower.”
One of the things that sets Tower's wellness program apart from others is its “Healthy Reward Points,” said Breland.
Employees earn points for participating in wellness events, getting regular doctor check-ups and health screenings, exercising, losing weight and eating healthy. Those who reach a certain number of reward points receive a Visa gift card, he said.