Wednesday, April 21, 2010

A healthier America starts with shared commitment

Start — a single word with more than one possible meaning.
Our nation and Nashville's health-care industry are starting to get their arms around the implications of health reform. The initial reaction is one of complexity and confusion. March 23, the day that President Barack Obama signed the health reform bill into law, will become a date that lives on in infamy to some and a glorious beginning to others.

The differences will be difficult to overcome, but two national goals are clear. We need a healthier America, and we need a strong, healthy economy. Both will require the commitment of individuals and communities, churches and schools, employers and employees. On better health, there should be no partisan divide.

One early required action of reform — to provide preventive services without cost to the employee — takes effect in September. Many employers are moving quickly to embrace an active role in employees' health and well-being.

Nashville companies large and small are leading the way to better health. In terms of revenue, Nashville's largest company is Nissan North America. With 11,000-plus employees and 40,000 covered lives, director of human resources Marlin Chapman's responsibilities are as broad as his shoulders.

Nissan has actively encouraged its employees to engage in their own health and well-being. The Nissan "LiveWell — Your Health" program is a national model. Nissan challenged its employees to walk to better health. Last year, more than 7,000 Nissan employees accepted the challenge and took more than 2.4 billion steps.

HealthStream CEO Bobby Frist motivates his high-tech work force in other ways. Birthdays are now celebrated with fruit, not birthday cakes. Employees have also been encouraged to become active and creative. For instance, try the HealthStream pingpong tournaments (via Wii) instead of your next coffee break.

Exercise is a 2-for-1 deal

The Start! Heart Walk is another rallying point for many Nashville businesses. It is conducted under the auspices of the American Heart Association, and Subway and Wal-Mart are national cause sponsors.

Mark Emkes, former Bridgestone chairman and CEO, has engaged more than 100 Nashville employers to start on employee health and wellness. It is a two-for-one deal. You get two minutes of longer life for every minute of exercise. See for more details.

Healthways' CEO Ben Leedle has challenged Nashville to become one of the world's "Blue Zones" — measuring our health status in terms of longevity and healthy lifestyles. Let's hope Nashville leads the nation in employee health and wellness.

Dick Cowart is chairman of the health law and public policy departments of the Baker Donelson law firm and a past president of the American Health Lawyers Association. Reach him at

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