Defying expectations, state Comptroller Kevin Lembo announced Friday that more than 50,000 state employees have enrolled in the new Health Enhancement Program.

The program, which caused confusion and concern prior to the first vote on the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition, seems to be an early success with 96 percent of state employees enrolling.

The idea behind the program is to save the state and state employees money by promoting healthier living and regular physicals that avoid more costly care by identifying medical conditions early.

“One of the program’s goals is to reduce costs by focusing on prevention, rather than expensive acute care that often results from lack of coordination of health care, particularly for certain chronic conditions such as diabetes, asthma, heart disease/heart failure, high cholesterol or hypertension,” Lembo said in a press release Friday.

The number of employees participating is far higher than the 50 percent Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s administration expected when it estimated the state would save $102.5 million per year, for two years from the program. Those numbers were primarily based on the amount of money it expected to receive from employees paying the higher premiums and deductibles. Union sources said they anticipated 90 percent participation.

For agreeing to participate in the program state employees will pay lower monthly premiums and have no deductible for in-network care. Those with the specified chronic conditions such as heart disease and diabetes will also receive a $100 cash payment and reduced co-pays on certain prescriptions if they comply with program requirements.

Lembo himself acknowledged the confusion over the program which has also been called value-based health care in a CTNewsjunkie editorial in June.

“As confusing as the changes may seem, the new health program is actually very simple,“ Lembo wrote. “It offers the same quality health benefits currently provided, but now employees may receive financial and physical rewards for using those benefits.”

Larry Dorman, a spokesman for AFSCME Council 4, said the unions believe the program is a win-win.

“This program will have promote better health and deliver significant savings to the taxpayers,” he said.

The program begins Oct. 1.