Presentation at the 2008 Active Living Research Annual Conference
In 2004, grant funding was appropriated by NY State Senator Mary Lou Rath to establish the Western New York Wellness Works project, a partnership between the NYS Senate, NYS Department of Health, and the State University of New York at Buffalo School of Public Health and Health Professions (SUNY Buffalo SPHHP). The WNYWW initiative is a two year longitudinal study of 13 employee groups in Western NY which examines individual health risks, corporate support for wellness and health promotion, and health care cost. The purpose of the initiative is to evaluate worksite health interventions, their impact on employee health and employer health care costs using valid, reliable and standardized assessment tools. The SUNY Buffalo SPHHP was chosen to administer and coordinate the initiative utilizing an intervention-based public health research model. This involved a competitive Request for Proposals process, matching grants funding, a uniform evaluation processes including individual and company level data collection, and the acquisition of health care cost data from the major insurers in Western NY. Currently, the WNYWW initiative has collected 6,000 Health Risk Appraisals (HRAs) from employees in WNY, 20 surveys of corporate support for wellness (Heart Check Plus interview) and is attaining cost data from the three major insurers in Western NY. The initial WNYWW grant amount of $1 million dollars leveraged over $600,000 of matched funding from the grantee businesses, and approximately $20,000 in additional funding to offer HRAs to minority, underserved and rural employers. The early successes of the WNYWW project have served as an impetus for legislative change within the state, as informational one-pagers and word of the activities and successes of the program have been shared with other members of the state legislature.
The objective of this policy analysis is to describe the utilization of the WNYWW regional research project methodology and results as a catalyst for policy change at the state level.
Searches of the NYS Legislature and Westlaw databases were performed to identify laws and bills in various stages of approval in NY State from 2002 to the present relating to worksite wellness. The text and history of legislation was collected and reviewed for temporal and content-based relation to the initial WNYWW grant award.
In 2007, New York State Public Health Law, Chapter 45 of the Consolidated Laws of New York included provisions for the establishment of the New York Wellness Works program (Article 27-K § 2799 o-r). This law was accompanied by the NYS Health and Mental Hygiene Budget Act, Chapter 54 of the Laws of New York (2007) which appropriated $2 million dollars of funding for the project and was passed on April 9, 2007. The NYWW program will be coordinated by the NYSDOH (§ 2799-o) and up to $100,000 of the appropriation may be used for the administration of the program. WNYWW principle investigator and project staff will serve as advisors to the expanded state-wide initiative (§ 2799-p). The NYWW program is the direct result of the preliminary empirical research findings from the WNYWW program (including individual HRA data and HCP interviews) which have instilled confidence in this research model and its ability to effect changes in employee health and wellness. Other new health promotion bills currently at various stages in the legislative process include Senate Bill 40A (DeFrancisco) which provides for the promotion of on-the-job wellness policies for public and private employees. Linking the employee health and health care industries, Assembly Bill 2357 (Schimminger) would authorize health insurers to provide “actuarially appropriate reductions in health insurance premiums for participation in a wellness program.” Senate Bill 4675 (Hannon) would require health insurance policies to provide coverage for health promotion programs, preventative exams and consultations, while Senate Bill 2595A would provide for occupational wellness income tax credits for businesses.
Collaborations between legislators, academics, private industry, health care insurers and community organizations have promising implications for population level health promotion initiatives and research studies. Identifying champions within local and state government to lead campaigns and gain support for policy-level health promotion is an integral step in expanding the reach of traditional health promotion interventions and effecting change at the regional and state-wide level.