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A state board on Tuesday approved a pilot project allowing 2,000 state and public school employees to enroll in an online weight-loss program, with their health plans picking up the cost.

The project is expected to cost about $560,000, or about $280 per participant.

Chris Howlett, director of the Department of Finance and Administration's Employee Benefits Division, told the State and Public School Life and Health Insurance Board that the program will pay for itself if it keeps only a small percentage of the participants from developing diabetes or other costly health conditions connected to obesity.

A survey last year of health plan members and their spouses found that 43.7 percent were obese based on their reported height and weight.

By contrast, a survey by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2016 found that 35.7 percent of Arkansas adults were considered obese, giving the state the third-highest rate of adult obesity in the country.

Given the tendency of people to underreport their weight, it's likely that more than half of the health plans' members or spouses are obese, said Cindy Gillespie, an insurance board member and director of the state Department of Human Services.

"I'm very much for anything we can do to try to make a difference in that," she said.

Offered by Dallas-based ACAP Health, the weight-loss program will be available on a first-come, first-served basis to 1,000 people covered by the health plans for state employees and 1,000 people covered by the public school plans.

About 45,000 school employees and 26,000 state employees, along with employees' family members and retirees, are enrolled in the plans.

The program offers about 30 to 40 minutes per week of video tutorials, in five- to seven-minute segments, aimed at changing people's eating habits.

Instead of changing what people eat, it focuses on teaching them skills, such as eating more slowly and only when they're hungry, Sandy Schenck, director of business development and product strategy for ACAP health, told the board.

Participants also can get advice online or over the phone from health coaches, communicate online with other participants and download a mobile app they can use to track their progress, Schenck said.

Although the program lasts a full year, the plans will only be billed for a maximum of 17 weeks per participant: $38.50 for the first 10 weeks and $25 for the next seven, for a maximum of $560 per participant, Schenck told the board's benefits subcommittee earlier this month.

The average enrollee participates for about seven weeks, at a cost of about $280, he said.

He said the company is considered an in-network provider by Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield, which processes the plans' medical claims. The program will be billed through the claims system as a preventive health service, he said.

Howlett said enrollment will start within the next few weeks. The board can decide whether to expand the program based on the results of the pilot project, he said.

Metro on 04/18/2018

Print Headline: Obesity plan to enroll state, school workers


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