Calif. CU Expands Health Care With 'Alternative' Choice

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While many employers are cutting back on healthcare benefits, Financial Partners Credit Union is giving its staff more choices with the addition of an "alternative medicine" health plan that includes acupuncture and chiropractic treatment.

Diane Jarecki, the CU's vice president of human resources, said the plan has proven popular with employees since it first was offered during the open enrollment period in November 2004 for the 2005 calendar year.

"We just had open enrollment in November, and we looked at whether or not we should keep it," she recalled. "When we told employees they would have the option again this year, there was a big cheer."

Although there has been a lot of positive feedback, Jarecki said she would like to see participation in the alternative health plan rise. Of the CU's approximately 150 employees, 40 currently are enrolled.

Jarecki said the company that manages the plan- San Diego, Calif.-based American Specialty Health- told her the participation rate is pretty high for the first year. "We would like to see between 50% and 60% usage. That would be good for the second year of the program," she said.

To increase participation, the credit union will host a health fair near the end of the first quarter. Jarecki said all vendors-medical, dental, vision and alternative medicine-will come in to educate the staff on every component of their programs. "That will raise awareness. We want people to know about the merits of the healthcare plans."

Under the alternative healthcare plan, employees at FPCU have access to acupuncturists, chiropractors and a nutrition and health management program. New in 2006: a smoking cessation program.

Jarecki is participating in the health management program to improve her overall fitness level, and has called the company to have an individual program designed. "You tell them you would like to participate, and they ask: 'What do you want to work on?'"

According to Jarecki, she was assigned a coach who set up an exercise and nutritional plan for her to follow.

The coach calls periodically to ask if she worked out during the past week.

Financial Partners CU began offering the alternative medicine program as a way of keeping healthcare costs down, improving the wellness of its staff and increasing retention, Jarecki reported. She said it is just one component of the credit union's "total rewards package" that it uses to survive in the competitive Los Angeles/Orange County marketplace.

"Healthcare benefits are reactive-they take care of people after they are sick. We wanted to do something proactive," she declared. "We are health conscious, and we want to focus on keeping people healthy. That translates into healthier employees who don't call in sick and give better member service."

For example, Jarecki continued, a person might have a family history of diabetes. If that person proactively reduces his or her weight, he or she might not require expensive treatment in five to 10 years.

"If we take care of this now, it might not evolve into something like that. And it goes beyond the expense-you would have an employee who would be healthier. Same with using acupuncture for pain management rather than taking pain killers. We want to give them options."

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