Perhaps the simplest way to reduce healthcare costs is to promote a healthier lifestyle among the U.S. population, experts told the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions on Thursday. The testimony was framed in the context of employer-sponsored health plans, and focused on initiatives employers can take to improve employees’ health and mitigate the financial burden to the healthcare system. Statistics indicate the opportunity for such programs to make a significant difference. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, healthcare costs represented just 9 percent of gross domestic product in 1980. Flash forward to 2017, and those costs represent about $2.3 trillion and is expected to rise. Means of improving health for employees, and indeed for all Americans, focus on common-sense approaches such as quitting smoking, maintaining a healthy weight and keeping cholesterol in check. The challenge is in providing incentives for people to do so. Steve Burd, founder and CEO of Alamo, California-based Burd Health, said his company was able to lower its healthcare costs by about 40 percent, employees’ cost by about 10 percent, and improve the level of care they receive by implementing voluntary, company-wide wellness initiatives that provided monetary incentives for maintaining healthy lifestyles. About 85 percent of Burd Health’s employees opted into the program, with 75 percent of spouses opting in as well, and the results were dramatic: Of the people who initially failed the blood pressure standard, 72 percent passed the standard within two years and maintained it through the remainder of the program. “We needed to provide support tools that allowed people to enhance their state of health,” said Burd. Michael Roizen, MD, chief wellness officer and founding chair of the Wellness Institute at the Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland, Ohio, said that if steps aren’t taken to bend the cost curve, the influx of chronic disease — which is growing at a rate faster than that of the U.S. population — could well bankrupt the nation’s health system. Wellness programs with voluntary participation, he said, could save hundreds of billions of dollars over the next several years. Read more at Healthcare Finance or Benefits Pro.