Friday, March 14, 2008

Workers lose weight-Gain money

Virgin Healthmiles, part of British billionaire Richard Branson's Virgin Group empire, is trying to take wellness and weight loss to another level. Insurance company Humana is rolling out the high-tech Virgin Life Care system, which lets employees rack up points for exercise. They can redeem the points for gift cards from Target to Home Depot, Bass Pro Shops to Best Buy.

The program has been slow to take off, though.

"Companies are already spending so much money on health care, they really have to ask, 'What's the return on this investment?' " Pattie Dale Tye, president of Humana, Houston said.

The Virgin system includes pedometers which measure steps taken. Users can connect their pedometers at a kiosk using a USB cable and record their steps, with points awarded based on the total.

At the kiosk, workers also can weigh themselves and get points for losing pounds, if they are overweight, or for maintaining a healthy balance if they're not.

Workers can earn points for other physical activities such as bowling or dancing.

But installing and operating the kiosks costs several thousand dollars, and Virgin charges $6.95 a month per employee enrolled. Tye said some companies are picking up that entire tab. Others push $5 of the cost back to employees.