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Washington County employees could see lower health insurance premiums

Washington County employees who participate in the wellness program could pay a lower premium for health insurance next year.
Basing the insurance cost on participation was one recommendation presented by the Washington County Wellness Task Force during the Jan. 9 meeting of the Cultural, Industrial and Agricultural Committee.
Commissioner Mark Ferguson, CIA chair, had charged the task force with developing ideas to increase participation in the program on the theory a healthier workforce benefits employees and the county.
Task force members are Scherry Graham, Karen Gingras, Amy Miller, Carrie Seeley, Sam Phillips, Michelle Stewart, Lisa Stafford, Willie Shrewsberry, Cheri Jamerson, Roger Simpson, Tom Foster and Ed Canter.
After meeting several times to evaluate the wellness program, task force members compiled a list of recommendations that were outlined during the meeting by Carrie Seeley, Business Health Regional Manager for Mountain States Health Alliance.
Increasing the incentive to complete a health assessment is a recommendation to help employees take the first step toward a healthier lifestyle.
The health assessments are available through the contracted services of MSHA nurse Scherry Graham who meets with employees in private consultations.
Employees currently receive $50 as an incentive to complete a health assessment. Task force members recommended increasing that incentive and modifying the time and method of payment.
The payment has been included in the paycheck, but there was confusion regarding the month it was received, and in some offices the payment was included with overtime pay.
Allowing Graham to present a $50 gift card to the employee at the end of the consultation would centralize the receipt of the payment, though the $50 would still be taxed, a sore point with some employees.Ferguson said he would like the county to pay the tax so the employees receive the full $50.
According to Seeley, the payout to employees is included in the $50,000 contract with MSHA.
“Is there money to raise the incentive?” asked Tom Foster, the county’s insurance broker. “If you’ve got that money set aside, you may as well use it. It looks like there would be a line out the door to get $75.”
Task force members also recommended the county increase its contribution toward the already discounted rate for membership at The Wellness Center in Johnson City for employees who use it.
A report distributed during the meeting indicates only 45 employees are members of The Wellness Center and half that number actively uses it.
The county pays The Wellness Center $22.50 each month for every employee who is a member, regardless of usage. The employee pays $92.50 to join and $22.50 each month afterward.
The proposed change would have the county paying 100 percent of membership dues for employees who use the center at least 12 times per month, 50 percent of dues for those using it eight times per month, and no payment toward membership dues for those who use the center less than eight times per month.
Commissioner Sam Phillips agreed with linking participation to the premium.
“Have a higher premium for those not participating and a lower one if they do,” he said.
Another possibility is to take away one vacation day from employees who don’t participate. The idea led to a word of caution from Seeley.
“It’s better to lean on the side of the carrot than the stick,” she said, referring to incentives working better than consequences.
The task force will bring more detailed recommendations next month.
Foster reported the county is already in the renewal process and considering benefits for next year’s insurance contract, which will become effective July 1.
“We reviewed the usage report (from Humana, the current carrier), and there were only three claims in excess of $50,000 for the year,” he said.
Ferguson said it’s good Foster already has the ball rolling on next year.
Despite Foster’s and Ferguson’s comments, Commission Chair Greg Matherly said Humana does not have a lock on the insurance contract.
“I’m strictly in favor of bidding,” he said after the meeting, adding that the committee is getting a price from Humana for comparison.
“I’m ready to put it on the table, and I know a lot of the commissioners want to see it bid,” he said.