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Health program keeps Cumberland Co. insurance costs in-check

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FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. -

As Cumberland County's Employee Health Services program approaches its one year anniversary, county leaders are seeing results in their waistlines and their pocketbooks.

The program started in August 2012, and it created an employee express care clinic and an employee pharmacy. By operating the pharmacy directly, the county saves money and passes those savings to employees.

County employees can also participate in a wellness program to reduce their health insurance costs. In the first year, employees had the option of attending a health fair that allowed them to get a $30 reduction in their monthly health insurance premium through the county's plan. Employees who attended the health fair in March had certain health measurements taken. Those employees can now pay $21 per month instead of $51 per month for health insurance coverage through the county.

"I was not happy with them. The numbers were not good," commented Myra Brooks about her measurements. "So I knew I had to do something."

Since March, Brooks has lost more than 25 pounds. She took a nutrition and fitness class offered by the county and changed how she eats. She also exercises more now. Brooks said she knows several other county employees who have done the same.

Employees who want to participate in the program will have those certain measurements taken again in March 2014. At that point, employees will have to meet three out of four health-related criteria to qualify for the reduced rate. Those criteria relate to waist circumference, blood pressure, cholesterol ratio and glucose.

County Commission Chairman Jimmy Keefe said the wellness program has caught on among many employees. Just in the administration office, Keefe says several employees have lost weight because of the health incentives. Keefe said he has also lost about 20 pounds.

County leaders decided to introduce the wellness program in light of increasing health care costs. Since the county is self-insured, every health insurance claim is an out-of-pocket type of expense for the county. Employees, their family members and county retirees have health insurance coverage through the county.

Research found Cumberland County's health insurance claims increased 11 percent in 2012. According to the county, the top three reasons for claims were hypertension, diabetes and heart disease. The wellness program is an effort to change individual behaviors and reduce health insurance claims.

"Healthier people work more, and they're more proficient when they're at work," said County Commission Chairman Jimmy Keefe. "The people who aren't as healthy have to take sick time more, they take more breaks at work."

Brandon Herring

Brandon is a North Carolina native and UNC alum who lives in Fayetteville, and covers Cumberland County and the Sandhills. Returning to North Carolina to work as a journalist is a dream come true for Brandon. More>>

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