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A Wellness Checkup: Quick Looks at Successful Local Government Employee Health Programs

Tags:  (2017 Jan 12th - 3:08pm)

IPMA-HR hears concerns from members almost every day about their ability to continue providing robust employee health benefits without busting public budgets. Growing evidence supports the launch and expansion of wellness programs as a principal solution.

Following are profiles of one city and two counties where wellness initiatives are working to contain costs and strengthen the public sector workforce. While no approach to offering wellness services will work in every setting, and while wellness will never assuage every worry over health benefits spending, your own local governments may find it worthwhile to adapt some of the practices that have proven to work in other localities.

A Healthier Workforce

The Johnson County Parks and Recreation Department[1] (JCPRD) in Kansas in fall 2016 received Gold Level Healthy KC Certification from the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce’s Healthy KC Workplace Wellness Program. This highest level of quality endorsement recognizes the county’s success in improving employees’ nutrition, physical activity and work-life balance while also reducing employees’ tobacco use,

Getting workers and their spouses off tobacco is where the JCPRD wellness program really excels. Participants qualify for financial incentives in the forms of lower premiums and deductibles when they stop smoking or dipping and also meet certain criteria for three of five measures of general health related to body mass index/waist circumference, blood pressure, total cholesterol, HDL cholesterol or blood pressure. Failure to successfully complete a tobacco cessation course during the first year of enrollment in the wellness program results in forfeiting all breaks on out-of-pocket health care expenses.

The county further commits to keeping its employees healthy by offering fitness classes scheduled around workers’ shifts and lunch breaks, free onsite annual influenza vaccinations and unlimited access to health coaches.

Lower Costs

A string of back-to-back-to-back double-digit percentage health plan price increases prompted Butler County, OH, supervisors to double down on the employee wellness program. As part of a shift to self-insurance, the county will spend 2017 encouraging more workers and their newly eligible spouses to sign up for Butler Health and Wellness[2], a combination of in-person and web-based interventions designed to reduce doctor visits and insurance claims.

The program, which currently enrolls 40 percent of county employees, offers telephone coaching, fitness challenges, physicals and body scans. A unique aspect is a regularly updated webpage that shows prices for common medical procedures. Butler County employees who opt for lower-priced medical services spend less out of their own pockets and receive rewards through the wellness program.

During 2017, greater participation in Butler Health and Wellness is expected to contribute to saving the county $500,000 from what it spent on premium and deductible matches during 2016. The program is also targeting tobacco use because smoking has actually increased among workers in recent years.

Healthier Workers at Lower Cost

In the Wisconsin city of Eau Claire[3], 95 percent of employees participate in the wellness program. A guarantee to cover 100 percent of health care deductibles of up to $3,300 for families is surely a draw, and so is a 15 percent break on annual premiums for participants who achieve personal health goals like weight loss or diabetes management.

County executives feel justified in offering such generous incentives because the wellness program saves money overall. Premiums projected to rise 3 percent in July were locked in at a 1 percent increase in October, in part because the city’s healthy workers file few large health claims. Medical care utilization stays under control because just around 1 percent of workers currently suffer from high blood pressure and rates of other chronic conditions also remain low. That translates into an estimated $5 million in savings on total premiums and claims.

What Works for You?

HR News and IPMA-HR want to learn what your city, county or state is doing to keep employees healthy and insurance costs manageable. Email us at publications@ipma-hr.org to share your government organization’s story.


Ed Lamb is a freelance editor and writer in Virginia Beach, Va. He can be reached via email at thoroughcursor@gmail.com.


[1] Sources: http://www.shawneedispatch.com/news/2016/nov/06/jcprd-receives-healthy-workplace-gold-certificatio/ and http://www.jocogov.org/wellness

[2] Sources: http://www.journal-news.com/news/local/health-plan-projected-save-butler-county-tax-dollars/GkHA19w86RWTE7GhmlYvHO/ and http://www.butlercountyohio.org/benefitsweb/wellness/

[3] Source: http://www.leadertelegram.com/News/Front-Page/2016/10/26/Eau-Claire-employees-wellness-activities-slowing-insurance-costs.html