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Southern California Schools VEBA Launches Weight Loss Program for Obese Members to Promote Healthy Lifestyle Changes and Address Health Cost Issues.

SAN DIEGO -- --Innovative program provides an alternative approach to traditional weight loss methods with a holistic solution that offers individual counseling in nutrition, fitness and mental health services with support from the program partners, American Specialty Health and PacifiCare Behavioral Health

Recognizing the link between obesity and disease, Southern California Schools Voluntary Employees Benefits Association (VEBA) -- a cooperative labor-management trust that provides comprehensive health and benefit programs for Southern California education employees -- is launching the VEBA Weight Loss Challenge.

The Weight Loss Challenge is the first in a series of health and wellness programs that VEBA will sponsor under the theme VEBA la Health, which aims to:

--Help members improve their health and reduce the risk of disease, while influencing long-term, sustainable behavior change

--Increase member awareness about health risks and the benefits of adopting a healthy lifestyle

--Reduce health care costs for both members and their employers resulting from conditions and diseases related to excess weight, obesity and other risk factors.

"The Southern California Schools VEBA is launching the Weight Loss Challenge because we recognize the link between obesity and disease, and the serious implications for our membership," said George McGregor, administrator for the Southern California Schools VEBA Trust. "The goal of this program is to improve our members' health and reduce the risk of disease, while influencing long-term, sustainable and healthy behavior change. We estimate that every ten pounds of weight lost in this program equates to a $500.00 savings in health care costs. If you multiply that number by the 200 participants in the pilot program, the results are substantial -- $100,000.00. Potentially, the cost savings could be staggering as we hope to roll out this program to those who qualify among our 85,000-member population."

About the VEBA Weight Loss Challenge

The VEBA Weight Loss Challenge takes a scientific approach to assisting individuals who are clinically overweight or obese by offering this program to members who qualify as clinically obese with a body mass index of 30 or above.(1) This is the pilot version of the Weight Loss Challenge and the goal is to offer the next phase to those who qualify among the 85,000-member population of Southern California Schools VEBA. The VEBA Trust is sponsoring and paying for all program costs. There is no charge to members who are selected to participate in the pilot program.

For 12 months, beginning on March 1, 2005, 40 five-member teams will compete in a friendly competition to lose weight and improve overall health. Teams were selected by departments, associations and districts and participation is voluntary and confidential. Every participant will set personal health goals and will also work with their team to achieve team goals throughout the year. The top team will be awarded a two-night stay at a luxury resort including a golf and spa package.

Each participant will receive an initial health screening and health-related services throughout the year including:

--Individual coaching from licensed clinicians and health educators

--Motivation and encouragement from weekly support group sessions

--Access to health clubs, personal trainers and personalized home-based exercise plans

--Customized menus, meal plans and shopping lists

--Access to nutrition courses and meal-planning techniques that help participants manage their weight into long-term maintenance.

VEBA is partnering in the Weight Loss Challenge with American Specialty Health Networks and PacifiCare Behavioral Health. Both partners bring unique offerings to the program and provide an emphasis on long-term healthy lifestyle changes.

"This program is unique because it focuses on professional counseling and support groups to heal the emotional aspects of the participants' weight issues. As one of the nation's leaders in providing behavioral health benefits, we are confident that participants will achieve successful and long-term weight loss if they take advantage of all the physical and mental support services offered to them in this program," said Robert Burchuk, M.D., PacifiCare Behavioral Health's vice president and corporate medical director.

George DeVries, chairman, president and chief executive officer at American Specialty Health, added, "Healthyroads and American Specialty Health are proud to be associated with the VEBA Weight Loss Challenge. By giving their members the power -- and the incentive -- to make healthy lifestyle choices, VEBA is helping them change their lives for the better and live longer and healthier."

About the Weight Loss Challenge Program Participants

The average age of the 200 program participants is 45 years old with 16 percent male and 84 percent female. The average weight among the participants is 235 lbs. and the average body mass index is 40.(2) The majority of the participants cite health-risk issues as their main reason for participating in the program including concerns over cancer, diabetes, asthma, irritable bowel syndrome and infertility. Participants in this pilot program hail from school districts throughout San Diego including: Fallbrook Elementary School District, Lakeside Union School District, Lemon Grove School District, National School District, San Diego Community College District, San Diego County Office of Education, San Diego Unified School District, San Diego Union High School District, San Marcos Unified School District, South Bay Union High School District and Sweetwater Union High School District.

About the Southern California Schools Voluntary Employees Benefits Association (VEBA)

The Southern California Schools VEBA began operations in October 1993 as a cooperative labor-management trust program committed to achieving the highest quality and most cost-effective benefits programs for all education employees. Through the unity of design, purchase and administration, trust participants have control over quality of care and cost. With labor and management joining forces, the trust has more negotiating power with providers than small, individual districts could ever attain. The Southern California Schools VEBA dominates the regional areas in which it operates. Total participation in the trust includes 26 districts, one association, and a county office of education. The trust serves 38,000 employees and 47,000 dependents, for a total participation of 85,000 members.

About PacifiCare Behavioral Health, Inc.

PacifiCare Behavioral Health provides mental health, chemical dependency and employee assistance services to covered members and maintains a national network of behavioral health care practitioners. All PacifiCare Behavioral Health service centers hold three-year, Full Accreditation from the National Committee for Quality Assurance (NCQA), as well as URAC Health Utilization Management and Case Management Accreditation. PacifiCare Behavioral Health is a wholly owned subsidiary of PacifiCare Health Systems (NYSE: PHS), with clients including health plans, union trust funds, employers, school districts and public-sector agencies.

About American Specialty Health

Healthyroads, Inc. is a subsidiary of American Specialty Health, Incorporated (ASH). ASH and its subsidiaries are the nation's leading specialty benefits organization for complementary health care, providing benefit, health education and affinity network programs to health plans, insurance carriers, employer groups and trusts nationwide. Based in San Diego, ASH has over 500 employees and over 11.5 million members in benefit programs nationwide. For more information about ASH and its subsidiaries, visit their Web sites Healthyroads.com and ASHCompanies.com.

Obesity Background Information

--Obesity is a disease that affects nearly one-third of the adult American population (approximately 60 million).

--The number of overweight and obese Americans has continued to increase since 1960, a trend that is not slowing down.

--Today, 64.5% of adult Americans (about 127 million) are categorized as being overweight or obese.

--Each year, obesity causes at least 300,000 excess deaths in the U.S., and health care costs of American adults with obesity amount to approximately $100 billion.

--Obesity is the second leading cause of unnecessary deaths.

--Health insurers rarely pay for treatment of obesity despite its serious effects on health.

--When Body Mass Index (BMI) exceeds 30, the relative risk of obesity-related death increases by 50 percent.

Source: American Obesity Association.

Obesity's Impact on Health Care Costs

--Overweight employees equate to 45% more hospital stays.

--High cholesterol equates to 16% higher annual claims.

--Smokers equate to 27% higher annual claims.

--High blood pressure equates to 12% higher annual claims.

--Poor nutrition equates to 15% higher annual claims.

--High stress equates to 40% higher annual claims.

--Sedentary lifestyle equates to 13% higher claims.

--National health care expenditures equate to $2.1 trillion in 2005 and is estimated at 25% of gross national product (GNP) in 2015.

Source: American Specialty Health.

(1)Footnote: According to the American Obesity Association, when Body Mass Index (BMI) exceeds 30, the relative risk of obesity-related death increases by 50 percent.

(2)Footnote: According to the American Obesity Association, when Body Mass Index (BMI) exceeds 30, the relative risk of obesity-related death related increases by 50 percent.
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Copyright 2005, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Date:Mar 1, 2005
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