Changing Behavior, Changing Healthcare

Posted on 15 January 2010

web biz Morrissey

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), in the 20th century the leading causes of death in the United States were chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer, rather than infectious disease. Seven out of every 10 residents in the United States who die each year, die as a result of chronic diseases, which the CDC also notes affects the quality of life of some 90 million residents and accounts for 70 percent of the total national healthcare costs.

While diseases like these are the most common and expensive health care issue we face in the United States, they are also the most preventable, often attributed to unhealthy behavior like smoking, stress or obesity due to lack of exercise or poor nutrition. This is why some of the largest corporations — in particular grocery giant Safeway — started offering incentives to employees willing to get healthier, thus reducing their healthcare costs as a company.

After watching this trend develop during his 24 years at one of the nation’s larger insurance firms, CIGNA Healthcare, Tom Morrissey decided to strike out on his own, starting the Sag Harbor-based Morrissey Advisory Services, which, in addition to being a full-service insurance brokerage, also is focused on improving the health of his clients’ employees through the Healthy Business Group program. Morrissey has teamed up with his wife, Susan Hansen Morrissey and John White in the venture.

The Healthy Business Group, a unique program Morrissey Advisory Services offers its clients, is a group of small to middle market businesses who have banded together in their commitment to improving the health of their employees, understanding this will reduce health care costs over time. Once signed on to The Healthy Business Group, employees fill out a health risk appraisal, which is confidential and will never be seen by the employer or Morrissey by law.

“Some employees are initially hesitant,” admitted Morrissey. “They think they will be discriminated against by their employer if they see it; but it is actually illegal for them to take a single look at it.”

Instead the results of the entire company are tallied by the University of Michigan Health Management Research Center, which informs the employer through Morrissey about the overall health of their workforce, allowing, for example, Morrissey to bring in a weight management coordinator if results show the company has a number of over-weight or obese employees. For joining the weight management program, employees would be offered an incentive from their employer to encourage participation.

Morrissey said his firm is already looking at partnership with local wellness organizations, to get clients a better rate for services like gym memberships or wellness seminars.

So far, according to Hansen Morrissey – the firm’s small business consultant handling accounts for employers with less than 20 employees – the local response has been positive.

“It has been very positive and well received,” she said. “Most people have been more than willing to take the health risk assessment because they know it will reduce their healthcare costs in the future.”

A Sag Harbor native, Hansen Morrissey said a lot of small businesses are also happy to be working with another small, local firm.

“We are not inventing any of this,” said Morrissey. “We are actually stealing these ideas from the best in the business.”

Morrissey said the concept is an open platform and companies like Safeway, which helped pave the way for this kind of healthcare management, are encouraging other businesses to adopt similar models. However, for an insurance brokerage to create a similar system is unique, said Morrissey.

“There is really nothing like it anywhere,” he said. “There are brokers out there that are marketing wellness programs, but no one we know of, and the University of Michigan has told us this as well, is really doing something like this.”

For employers with two to 50 employees, there are state laws that prevent insurance companies from giving a better rate to a “healthier” company and companies cannot band together to buy insurance. However, companies can band together to address an issue like creating healthier work environments on the East End, and eventually may be allowed to purchase insurance as a group.

“The reason our businesses are coming together is that they share the same philosophy that improving the health of our workforce will help reduce the cost of healthcare and should be a priority,” said Morrissey.


Morrissey Advisory Services is located at 39 Division Street, Suite C in Sag Harbor. For more information, call 899-4470.

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