EB programs target health as a savings

Electric Boat tradesman Chris Wilson of Groton is awarded a check for participating in "It All Counts" wellness campaign on Wednesday, May 1.
Electric Boat tradesman Chris Wilson of Groton is awarded a check for participating in "It All Counts" wellness campaign on Wednesday, May 1. Tim Cook/The Day

Groton - Electric Boat spends on average more than $10,000 per employee on health care coverage and initiatives that promote good health each year.

Health care for the 12,000 employees costs more than $100 million annually, including about $20 million for prescription drugs, said Robert Nardone, EB's vice president of human resources. About 90 percent of employees use the company insurance and pay about 25 percent of the cost.

As part of a strategy to slow the growth in costs, EB is relying on a series of wellness initiatives that were put into place beginning in 2006.

Employees can take yoga classes at the company gym, have prescriptions from the company pharmacy delivered to their building, get help losing weight or quitting smoking, and attend health fairs, seminars and screenings on-site.

On Wednesday, Nardone thanked a group of employees who took part in the programs last year and won cash prizes in the annual raffle held to encourage participation. Health care costs are not going down, he told them, "so whatever you can do makes a big difference."

Kenneth Wimberly, a supplier quality supervisor, ran 40 miles a week as part of a competition among the departments to see which one could spend the most time exercising.

Frank Novajovsky, a rigger, won the top prize of $7,500.

"Personally I think more people should get on board because it will only benefit them and their health," said Novajovsky, who had a heart attack in 2010 and encourages his colleagues to see the doctor regularly.

The shipyard drastically changed its approach to wellness after 2005 when the cost of its insurance was projected to increase 10 percent each year for nearly the next decade, Nardone said.

If employees were healthier, they would feel better and be more productive, Nardone said. Fewer claims meant that the insurance costs would increase at a slower rate.

Last year, more than 70 percent of the company participated in the wellness programs.

The rising cost of health care will remain a significant concern at EB, Nardone said, but in some years the projected growth was cut from 10 percent to between 3 and 5 percent and the premiums that employees pay stayed the same or increased slightly.

"We tried to set out a course to really change the behavior of our employees, and we did that," Nardone said. "We can provide great health plans, and because we provide the pharmacy, we can offer drugs at different rates than other pharmacies. But if the employee does nothing about his or her health, if they don't exercise and they don't take their medications and pay attention to what they're eating - if they don't change their behavior - it's not going to matter."

Wimberly said he wasn't sure how he would spend his $2,500 check from the raffle, but he'd start by buying breakfast for his group. When asked what he would bring into work, Wimberly said doughnuts and bagels.

On second thought, he added, maybe just bagels.

j.mcdermott@theday.com

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