When we’re sick, we want help right away. When we’re fine (or seemingly so), we don’t worry about our health.

As true as that is, this way of thinking is a big problem for LIUNA members and LIUNA’s signatory employers.

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LIUNA General Secretary-Treasurer and LHSFNA Labor Co-Chairman Armand E. Sabitoni

In reality, “health” is all we have. The distinction between “curing a problem” and “avoiding a problem” is a fine line, indeed.

More than 2000 years ago, the father of medicine, Hippocrates, observed that “protecting and developing health must rank even above that of restoring it when it is impaired.” Until the 20th century, that observation was common sense.

Before 1900, most “doctors” were shamen who relied on spiritual guidance and personal experience. Curing an illness or injury was largely guesswork and, more often than not, unsuccessful. Only a fool failed to make every effort to stay healthy.

The 20th century’s great leaps in medical science – including the global eradication of smallpox and near eradication of polio – fostered the illusion that doctors would someday understand all aspects of the human body and could cure all its ills. Gradually, we forgot our common sense, lost interest in avoiding health problems and, instead, just marched straight to the doctor whenever we found a problem.

Our folly has come back to haunt us.

Since many of us don’t worry enough about staying healthy, we don’t. Statistics are stubborn facts. Laborers smoke at rates higher than the national average. More than 60 percent of American adults are overweight, and so are a growing number of their children. Anti-depressant medications are the nation’s fastest rising category of prescription drugs. These are a few, notable examples. And we’ve got plenty of other health problems that we need to address.

Yet, the data show that about half of LIUNA health and welfare funds do not offer comprehensive wellness services and that, among those that do, fewer than half the members and eligible family members use the services.

Other data show that wellness services save money over time (see, for example: “An Ounce of Prevention…What are the Returns?” American Journal of Preventive Medicine (April, 1999)).

“To have an impact on funds’ costs, members and their dependents need to use wellness services when they are available under their plan. And local funds need to ensure that participants are aware of what is covered,” says LHSFNA Health Promotion Division Director Mary Jane MacArthur. She outlines a three-point program.

“First, funds should implement wellness benefits that meet the needs of their participants.

“Second, the benefits need to cover a range of services to be effective: annual physicals, childhood immunizations, smoking cessation programs, prostate screening for men and PAP tests and mammograms for women.

“And third, health and welfare funds need to promote member awareness so they will use these benefits.”

Member awareness and education can be accomplished through fund newsletters that spotlight the wellness services provided by the plan. Paycheck envelope stuffers is another way to get information into members’ hands. Union meetings and health screenings at member events provide additional avenues of communication.

“Funds that offer coverage of wellness services and educate participants about the benefits of staying healthy through preventive measures are a step up in the battle against the soaring cost of health care,” says Armand E. Sabitoni, LIUNA General Secretary-Treasurer and Labor Co-Chairman of the LHSFNA. “With fully-utilized, comprehensive wellness programs, more people protect their health, problems are detected at an early stage, patients get care before their problems become severe and treatment costs a lot less. If we can reverse present attitudes and practice, we can save money for funds and, most importantly, improve the well-being of our members and their families.”

Hippocrates was right. So is that common saying: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

For more information on wellness programs, contact the Health Promotion Division or visit the LHSFNA website (www.lhsfna.org).

[Steve Clark]