BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
MONTROSE – Lee County employees could face a significant bump in their health insurance premiums when the new fiscal year rolls around July 1 if they don’t participate in the county’s wellness program.
At Tuesday’s regular meeting of the Lee County Board of Supervisors, Michelle Reed, the benefits coordinator for the county, outlined the program that’s been in place for the past two years. She said enrollment has been declining in the program and wanted to incentivize the program. However, one supervisor views the program as penalizing employees.
“We had a little less participation last year than the previous year when we rolled it out so we thought we should offer some kind of incentive to participate,’ Reed said.
Currently the county pays $730 per month to Health Solutions, Inc. to provide wellness services to 175 county employees. That rate will increase to $745 in the next fiscal year that begins July 1.
Justin Pieper, from Group Benefit Partners, who markets the Health Solutions program to the county said the program will be in its third year, but participation has been light.
He said with more people involved in the program, the county can see a savings because risk pools can be identified and employees can get help staying healthy and being more involved with their own health. The program is offered to all full-time county employees who are on the county’s insurance program.
“We offered it the first year and had modest participation 90 of the 170 or so of the health insurance participants enrolled and that’s OK because we had enough data to start to take a look at the overall population and get some good information, but not great,” Pieper said. “We offered it the second year and the participation went from 90 to 65. The information we can get with these gives a real meaningful return on investment. Generally speaking, these programs do well for the overall health and culture that you’re promoting when it comes to healthy lifestyles.”
But Supervisors also approved a $50 per month increase in the employee part of the insurance premium, taking a single policy from $20 per month to $70 per month and a family plan from $95 per month to $145 per month.
Reed said the county was going to have to move on increasing premiums at some point so they wanted to take a gradual approach. But she called $145 a month for a family with a $1,500 family deductible “insane” in today’s health care market.
“Even at a rate of $145 for a family…. that’s just insane,” she told the board.
But employees that participate in the wellness plan will have the increase discounted, resulting in the same rate they are currently paying.
She said employees would have to take part in a health screening which is a private visit from a representative of Health Solutions to take a blood draw and do measurements such as height and weight; take part in a health risk assessment, which can be done online, and then participate in a 30-minute post screening consultation where a representative goes over the results of the screening and assessment.
“That would take place in the first few months of the fiscal year and then they would be eligible for the discounted premiums,” Reed said.
“At this point we decided to not make them do anything extra. A lot of companies have stipulations that require a certain number of gym visits or 5k runs, that kind of thing, but we didn’t want to do that because we do want people to participate in the program.”
The only cost to employees would be a voluntary coaching, but Reed said nobody signed up for that last year so it didn’t cost the employees anything last year.
The discount won’t apply to the sheriff’s department or PSAP employees because their rates are set by union contracts.
Gary Folluo said the agreement amounts to a penalty for those who don’t want to participate in the wellness program and he voted against the proposal which passed 4-1.
Folluo also voted against increasing the county employees’ portion of the premiums, which also passed 4-1.
Pieper said the county is going to save money either way. They’ll save money on the premiums if employees don’t sign up for the wellness program, or they’ll make up the money on a healthier risk pool because people are getting involved in their own health care.
“But if we continued down the path of volunteer participation, it wasn’t trending in the direction to really discern any real meaningful return on that investment,” he said. “We needed better participation and the only way to get that is to incentivize participation. When we come to the juncture of having to budget a health insurance premium increase, this is the approach we decided to look at. The folks that don’t want to take their health into their own hands and participate actively in the program, they’ll shoulder the increase in the premiums. Folks that agree to participate won’t have any increase in premiums.”
Matt Pflug said the board has talked frequently about increasing health insurance premiums at some point.
“I think this board or any future board is going to have to make a decision that premiums are too low. So now we’re talking about increasing the premium and if they don’t participate they got additional costs,” he said.
Board Chairman Don Hunold said if the county really wanted to change the structure and get people more involved they could raise the deductible.
“If you want to change the structure and make people more accountable to themselves do what everyone else does and move the deductible to $10,000,” he said. “All of a sudden you’re pretty intent on staying healthy because you’re writing the check. Right now the deductible is $750 and you won’t find that anywhere else.”
In other action, the board:
– voted 5-0 to renew a two-year recycling agreement with Great River Regional Waste Authority
– voted 5-0 to approve a lease agreement for property in Croton
-voted 5-0 to reappoint Vic Conlee to the Commission of Veteran Affairs