Health

New program aims to tailor healthy initiatives

Three options available for schools, business, communities

Wellmark’s Cedar Rapids office, 600 Third Ave. SE, on Tuesday, May 10, 2016. Wellmark will sell plans on the state health insurance exchange for 2017. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
Wellmark’s Cedar Rapids office, 600 Third Ave. SE, on Tuesday, May 10, 2016. Wellmark will sell plans on the state health insurance exchange for 2017. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

A new push by Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield and the Healthiest State Initiative to get Iowans healthier will give communities resources to make changes, big and small.

The Healthy Hometown program, announced Tuesday, will give Iowa communities, schools and workplaces three avenues of evidence-based interventions and tools to choose from, said Becky Wampler, Wellmark’s director of health care sustainability.

• Self assessment — Schools and workplaces can take an online assessment, which in turn will send a report detailing ways to improve health. For example, Wampler said, a school principal may take the assessment and receive recommendations to create a school garden or implement a walking school bus.

• Project — Cities and towns can apply to implement a project starting in 2017. If chosen, Wellmark would supply the community with experts to help develop a plan, such as how to make cities more pedestrian friendly.

• Community transformation — Communities can apply, also starting in 2017, to implement a broad improvement strategy over several years. If chosen, Wellmark would supply experts to help develop a plan.

These three options give communities the tools to tailor their health goals and priorities, officials said, as well as customize their commitment.

Wellmark did not state how much money it would set aside for the program.

“Your ZIP code could impact your health more than your genetic code,” said Laura Jackson, Wellmark executive vice president and Iowa Healthiest State Initiative board president, in a news release.

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“What sets Healthy Hometown apart is the ability for communities to define themselves. Our goal is to create a groundswell of ‘healthy’ among Iowans. If a neighborhood, workplace or even a county wanted to get involved, they’re empowered to do so.”

Just last week, the state’s largest insurer released a report showing that obesity is a common factor that contributes to the most costly conditions among Wellmark’s customers in Iowa. Obesity is a direct link to more than 50 chronic conditions, including cancer, joint disorders, heart conditions and back pain.

The report underscores the need for this kind of program, officials said.

Also during the Tuesday announcement, the cities of Cedar Rapids, Marion and Iowa City were honored along with 13 other Iowa cities for their work on citywide health improvement initiatives.

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