Yesterday, my colleague Haydn Bush reported on the findings of a new Kaiser Family Foundation-HRET survey about the sharp rise in insurance premiums. The average family premium increased 9 percent between 2010 and 2011, significantly greater than the 3 percent family premium increase between 2009 and 2010.

It's not entirely clear why premiums spiked so much last year, but, as Haydn reported, Kaiser President and CEO Drew Altman suggested that insurers "pegged their premiums this year to an expectation of utilization that didn't play out because recovery sputtered…. If I had to guess, I would guess next year's increase would be lower. Recovery has slowed and utilization is back down."

Something else in the report also caught my eye: a large number of employers continue to offer wellness programs and incentives for workers to start down the path of more healthful living. The vast majority of firms offering wellness programs — 87 percent — do so through their insurer. Nearly 50 percent of employers say that their primary reason for offering wellness programs is because it is part of the health plan; 26 percent say it is to improve employee wellness and reduce absenteeism. Interestingly, just 8 percent say it is to reduce health care costs. That's a bit contrary to the anecdotal evidence we and others have reported.

Right here, in the land of Italian beefs, loaded hot dogs and deep dish pizza, Mayor Rahm Emanuel hopes to save taxpayers at least $20 million in the first year of a wellness plan for city workers. Mayor Rahm, who recently completed the Chicago Triathlon, is taking a (small) carrot and (big) stick approach — employees who sign up can access a variety of programs, including annual health screenings and weight-loss programs for free. Those who don't will see their premiums rise by $50 a month. Those fees will help fund the program.

The Tribune article detailing Mayor Rahm's initiative also highlights other Chicago-based firms jumping on the bandwagon, including IT firm CDW. As we have written in the past, hospitals are also embracing the strategy. Neil Douthat, a trustee at Truman Medical Centers in Kansas City, Mo., told us for a story last spring that hospitals have an obligation to model healthful behaviors for patients and the community. "We need to set an example. Our own employees need to be living the life before they can counsel others to do it."

I'm curious what your institutions are doing on the wellness front. Do you have programs for employees? Are you linking with local companies to develop wellness programs for their workforce? The October issue of H&HN highlights the efforts of two Chicago hospitals that are reaching deep into their communities to promote healthful living. Email me your thoughts to me at