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Originally published Wednesday, May 13, 2009 at 12:00 AM

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REI CEO Sally Jewell, Microsoft exec meet with Obama on health care

REI and Microsoft are among businesses praised by President Obama for programs designed to make their employees healthier and keep down health-care costs.

Seattle Times business reporter

Local companies REI and Microsoft were among a handful of businesses praised Tuesday by President Obama for programs designed to make their employees healthier and keep down health-care costs.

"You've got terrific innovations at companies like Microsoft, where they actually have used home visits of doctors to reduce the utilization of emergency-room care and are saving themselves millions of dollars," Obama told reporters at the White House after an hourlong discussion with business leaders, including Cecily Hall, Microsoft's director of U.S. benefits, and Sally Jewell, CEO of REI.

Obama drew laughter introducing the outdoor-oriented retailer, saying REI "has to be fit since they're a fitness company."

He noted that REI provides health insurance for part-time as well as full-time employees.

"Part of the reason they're able to do it is because they put a big emphasis on prevention and wellness," he said.

Obama also singled out Safeway and Johnson & Johnson for holding down health-care costs by encouraging employees to exercise, stop smoking and lose weight.

A fact sheet from the White House mentions Microsoft's weight-management program, which assigns participants to a primary-care doctor, behavioral health specialist and nutritionist.

Blogging about her meeting afterward, Hall said participants have dropped a total 50 tons since the program began in 2003.

Microsoft's "mobile medicine" program, which sends doctors to employees' homes to prevent costly emergency-room visits for problems like a croupy cough or skin wound, has made nearly 10,000 local house calls in three years, she said.

"We save a little over $200 every time we replace what would have been an emergency-room visit with a house call," Hall said.

Kent-based REI, according to the White House, helps employees take up outdoor activities by offering discounts on gear and apparel purchases, free rentals and time off.

It also reduces the amount employees pay for health coverage if they adopt several healthful habits, such as regularly eating fruits and vegetables and exercising.

Tuesday was the second day in a row Obama highlighted health-care changes. Monday, he announced that union and health-industry groups had committed to reduce the health-care inflation rate by 1.5 percentage points a year over 10 years.

Amy Martinez: 206-464-2923 or

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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