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Insurer puts focus on prevention |

Insurer puts focus on prevention

Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield is hoping Pittsburghers will trade in a lunchtime frozen yogurt for a midday yoga class.

The country’s ninth-largest health insurer opened a HealthPlace location in the ground floor of the former Hornes Department Store building, Downtown, on Monday. In addition to a Highmark employee fitness center, the facility offers wellness programs and health screenings to Highmark members, underscoring a shift in the health care and insurance industry to focus on containing costs through prevention.

“It seeks to reduce community disease levels, rather than waiting for people to become patients,” said Dr. Brad Pifalo, vice president of Highmark’s HealthPlace division. “Fewer than 5 percent of health care spending in this nation is spent on public health, and only a fraction of that is spent on wellness.”

In addition to yoga classes, the facility offers a variety of wellness programs, including nutrition counseling, flu shots, blood pressure and cholesterol screening and a video and book lending library. Non-Highmark members can use the facility for a fee. Highmark also built public bike racks in the building’s facade, hoping to increase ridership among commuters and Downtown visitors.

The new facility replaces HealthPlace’s former location on the third floor of Fifth Avenue Place, giving the program more visibility and filling a void in the Downtown development scheme that has existed since the Old Navy retail store vacated the space in January.

“For 15 years, we’ve operated HealthPlace on the third floor, but this gives us more visibility,” said Dr. Ken Melani, president and chief executive of Highmark. “Something much more important (than the renovation) is happening today. This is all about Highmark’s commitment to the community to make it a better place to live and work.”

Melani cited studies that show wellness and prevention reduce health insurance costs, which have posted double-digit gains in recent years. In surveys of its own employees beginning five years ago, Highmark found that 70 percent need to exercise and more than 50 percent were above their recommended weight.

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