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Ford pilot program to help unhealthiest workers

Chronic illnesses take a huge toll, both on the patient suffering from them, and on the overall health care system in the form of much higher health care costs.

Ford Motor Company says 61% of its health care costs are from employees who suffer from at least one, but often multiple, chronic illnesses. Those include heart disease, lung disease, diabetes, and asthma.

The company hopes to reduce those costs, while improving the quality of life for the people burdened by chronic illness.

Ford and its VEBA, a health care trust to cover health care for retired union workers, will begin a pilot program on July 1. 

Ford has enlisted a number of clinics and physicians in southeast Michigan to enroll 1,200 to 1,500 active and retired union workers in the program. 

To ensure confidentiality, physicians will determine who is eligible and will personally invite patients to participate. People will get an email from their doctor, followed up by a phone call if they don't respond to the email.

People who agree to sign up will be assigned a personal care nurse who will answer the patient's questions, help them keep their medications straight, make sense of all their doctors' instructions, and navigate a complicated health care system.

A similar program at Boeing reduced health costs by 17%. Ford says it may expand the pilot to a much larger group if it works.

Tracy Samilton covers energy and transportation, including the auto industry and the business response to climate change for Michigan Radio. She began her career at Michigan Radio as an intern, where she was promptly “bitten by the radio bug,” and never recovered.