Michael Puck and his family pose at their home in Colonial Heights. On dad’s lap is son Kayden, 2, with Pepper the black Labrador. Standing is mom, Cindy Puck, holding Pixie the cat. Seated at center is Bailee, 9, with Samie the Shih Tzu, and Brittany, 17, with Tiger the cat. Erica Yoon photo.
KINGSPORT — A decade ago, Michael Puck was surfing the Internet, looking for ways to keep physically fit and live a healthier life, when he came across an eye-opening report. In it, a company suggested that its employees were by far healthier than their peers at other firms.
Puck wanted to know more. He started digging, and learned the company had focused on preventative measures to improve employee health. Soon he found other companies with similar stories. And in his mind, a bigger picture began to emerge.
“My co-workers describe me as a health nut. And initially I was truly looking for my own personal benefit. Then I saw there was something that these companies were doing. So why weren’t other companies doing it?” Puck asked.
Puck, 41, grew up in Germany, and moved to the United States 10 years ago. He came to Kingsport seven years ago, working in human resources with a local company.
As part of his job, Puck attended health conferences to get ideas on ways to curb the rising cost of health care. But the ideas he had researched earlier — of companies focusing on employee wellness to keep their health care costs in check — were rarely mentioned at such conferences.
“I was amazed by how little those preventative measures were presented. Everybody was talking about how to shift cost, how to purchase more effectively, and completely ignoring what I believe to be a significantly more important factor — and that is, how can I keep my work force out of the health system in the first place,” Puck said.
“I got so upset — these are the experts of the nation, and they are telling you how to shift effectively without your employees realizing it, more costs to them. I said, ‘There is something so wrong here.’ That’s the day I went back to my hotel room and started writing.”
The result: A book titled “Health Care Cost Management — The High Road” to help businesses help their employees get healthier, and cut their health care costs at the same time.
The new book is available by download on the Internet, along with Puck’s Corporate Fitness Assessment Tool, which helps businesses benchmark their effectiveness in managing health care costs, and the Train Wreck Analyzer, which helps businesses determine if they’re headed for a financial train wreck by projecting their health care costs in the next 10 years.
Puck said that health care costs have grown by more than 500 percent since 1988, and are projected to reach a whopping $18,000 per person per year by 2012.
“I don’t know of too many businesses that can handle such an increase and, more importantly, I don’t know of too many businesses who know what to do about that. But there is a solution,” Puck said.
Puck said the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has conducted studies showing that more than 75 percent of all medical costs result from chronic conditions — most of which can be prevented or reversed through healthy living.
“There are building blocks, or health risks, that lead to chronic conditions. And if you have enough of those health risks, it doesn’t take too long to get a chronic condition,” Puck said.
“That’s not earth-shattering news. It’s common sense for most of us. If you’re overweight, don’t exercise, don’t eat healthy, a chronic condition like diabetes is not an unlikely scenario for you in the future. But how do I motivate my work force to do something about it?” Puck said.
In his plan, Puck suggests that businesses implement a smart benefit design coupled with an incentive to get employees to participate. Employees who meet certain targeted goals in a designated time frame would be rewarded financially.
For example, an employee with a cholesterol level of 240 at the beginning of the program could receive financial incentive if he lowers that level by 30 points in six months through healthy eating habits and exercise.
Employers could reward employees through health savings accounts or health reimbursement accounts, Puck said.
“Once the work force understands the process and understands that the employer is truly trying to help, you will see participation rates above 80 percent,” Puck said.
He’s so certain that the plan will work that he’s offering a three-year, 110 percent money back guarantee on the purchase of his book.
“I guarantee any business, of any size, can achieve substantial reductions in health care and related costs and the majority of businesses will be able to cut health care costs by at least 30 percent in three years,” Puck said.
“I can only make such promises and offers because I’ve seen my methods succeed,” he added.
“This is so simple to do, if you can’t get 30 percent of savings, then by all means you shouldn’t be running a company,” he said.
He said his European background and education has helped him think “outside the health care box.”
“Having a different view and different experience to start with makes you question. That was really instrumental for me, to question, and say there has to be a better way than what we’re doing right now,” Puck said.
“I came to the U.S. 10 years ago, and I see this as the biggest threat that we have right now to our economy,” Puck said.
Today, Puck is a national presenter at health care conferences, spreading his message to help the nation’s businesses “take the high road.”
“The secret is not simply to cut benefits and shift costs to employees — what I call the low road,” Puck said. “In addition to not being very compassionate, that recipe is one for long-term disaster as it harms employee morale and, while it treats the symptoms, it doesn’t cure the disease at the center of America’s health care cost containment crisis.”
He said his plan isn’t a wellness program, which typically motivates only a small percentage of a company’s work force. Instead — by offering employees a financial incentive to ensure participation — Puck’s program is a remedy that businesses can follow to get results in their employees’ health, and ultimately, in their bottom lines.
“It’s not the silver bullet to the bigger problem. I’m not proposing that what I’ve written in the book is a solution to our failing health care system. But it will help companies to take actions to lower their financial impact,” Puck said.
And, he said, healthy employees make productive employees. And companies that undertake the plan will most likely have less absenteeism, increased employee retention and more motivation among employees.
The book can be downloaded at www.cut-healthcare-cost.com for an introductory price of $297 for the first 100 buyers. Thereafter, the book will cost $497.
And Puck offers free health care program audits for companies that use the book to implement their own programs.
For more information, visit the Web site.
KINGSPORT — Michael Puck is hoping his new book will raise money to build a new shelter for homeless animals in Sullivan County.
Puck — author of “Health Care Cost Management — The High Road” — will donate 100 percent of the proceeds from the first year of book sales to the Humane Society of Sullivan County for a new shelter. And in subsequent years, 25 percent of the proceeds from book sales will go to the new shelter.
Puck, who lives in Kingsport with his wife, three children, two dogs and three cats, said he’s hoping the new shelter will decrease the number of animals currently being euthanized in the county.
He said the existing shelter houses about 5,000 animals a year.
Only about 20 percent of the cats, however, are adopted, while less than 50 percent of the dogs get new homes, said Puck, who serves as head of the humane society’s building committee.
“The Sullivan County animal shelter — the smell is disgusting. And if people would feel more comfortable going there and wouldn’t have to endure this terrible smell, and if there would be a veterinarian onsite and some grooming capabilities, we figured there would be a much higher interest, and therefore, adoption rates would go up and less animals would be killed in the process,” Puck said.
He said he wants to funnel much of the proceeds from his new book into the new animal shelter as a way to give back to his adopted community. A native of Germany, Puck moved to the U.S. 10 years ago, and has lived in Kingsport for seven years.
For more information on Puck’s book, visit www.cut-healthcare-cost.com.