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County urges fitness to reduce health care costs

By Joel Hall

jhall@news-daily.com

The county plans to introduce "Clayton on the Move," a program designed to encourage employees to use the county's recreational facilities to exercise during their lunch hour. For taking an extra half-hour to exercise, employees are expected to come into work 30 minutes early, or stay 30 minutes later.

The reward -- other than improved personal fitness -- is keeping the county's insurance premiums from skyrocketing, says Katherine Dodson, director of Clayton County Risk Management. Dodson said, nationally, the cost of health care rose by 11 percent last year.

This year, the insurance premiums for the county's self-funded employee medical plans will increase by six percent, about $450,000, with $350,000 paid by the county and $100,000 paid by employees.

Last June, the Clayton County government created the lifestyle management plan -- a self-funded health insurance option for employees not interested in the county's Kaiser Permanente HMO coverage.

While allowing employees to choose their own health care providers, the new plan required employees to undergo a risk assessment which checked for diabetes and a history of smoking, and also measured weight, body fat, blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

"Out of those participants, 80 percent of those on the Lifestyle plan were obese, or overweight," said Dodson. "We definitely do have a weight problem in the county that needs to be addressed ... because it contributes to other health problems. Until you really attack the things that are causing health care visits, we can't reduce health care costs.

"If the same medical costs incurred this year [are] incurred next year, then we would need a 12 percent premium," to insure all of the employees in the lifestyle management plan, Dodson continued.

"With a six percent increase ... we're kind of betting that they are going to get healthier instead of us having to increase it."

In addition to contracted nurses working one-on-one with employees to reduce their risk factors, the county also plans to host a series of "Lunch and Learns" in which employees will be able to have a healthy lunch with a nutritionist who will share recipes and healthy living tips.

"You can't address [weight problems] from a corporate standpoint," said Dodson. "You have to do it on an individual basis ... if we are flexible, it might help them a great deal."