Health care coverage is the largest employee-related expense for U.S. employers. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, private industry employer costs for insurance benefits averaged $2.59 per hour worked or 8 percent of total compensation.
Seventy-seven percent of organizations researched in 2015 saw increase in health care costs related to the Affordable Care Act and 24 of those organizations had an increase of 16 percent or more in overall health care coverage costs, according to Society for Human Resource Management research.
Officials estimate aggregate health care spending in the United States will grow at an average annual rate of 5.8 percent from 2015 to 2025, or 1.3 percentage points higher than the expected annual increase in the gross domestic product, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
As much as 70 percent of health care spending can be attributed to behavioral and lifestyle choices, according to the National Association of Health Underwriters.
By Brie Handgraaf
Times Staff Writer
While Congress is preparing for open-heart surgery on the Affordable Care Act, local companies are applying a tourniquet to manage health care expenses and provide for employee wellness.
“From an operational perspective, health insurance is always going to be there, and when it comes to managing costs, it is one of the first pieces looked at,” said Wilson Deputy City Manager Harry Tyson. “It does have an impact on the number of police cars on the street or firefighters on payroll because that money has to come from somewhere.
“We are not alone in looking at how to manage health care expenses.”
After the bulk of the Affordable Care Act provisions came into effect in 2014, companies felt the financial bleed. One way the city and other organizations addressed the issue was by opening a health clinic for employees. Wilson’s Employee Health and Wellness Center, which sits in the parking lot of the city’s operations center on Herring Avenue, has a nurse and a nurse practitioner available five days a week to treat acute and chronic symptoms.
“If an employee thinks they have the flu or a sinus infection, they used to have to take off work and go to urgent care, but now they can get seen almost immediately and get the care they need,” Tyson said.
For an asthmatic like city spokeswoman Rebecca Agner, the center makes it easy to manage chronic conditions with no office visit costs. Wilson Human Resources Director Agnes Speight said the health care center also helps cut the city’s expenses.
“We’re preventing visits to the emergency department, urgent care and even primary physicians in some cases,” Speight said.
The center supplements medical treatment from primary care physicians with the hope employees will better manage their health. BB&T also has a clinic on Tarboro Street for employees of the banking company, which opened in January of 2015.
“We’ve seen an increase in the compliance of associates in managing their health issues with the availability, ease of access and no cost for utilizing the clinics,” said David R. White, BB&T vice president of corporate communications. “In addition, minor acute medical conditions can be handled quickly and conveniently for our associates in the clinics.”
Between 20 and 30 Wilson County employees a month use the Well Care Clinic housed at the Wilson County Health Department.
“The clinic complements our commitment by offering an easy path to see a doctor or medical professional. It strongly encourages follow-up so that healthy habits can continue, and depending on which plan the employee uses, we either waive the co-pay or you have a reduced co-pay for using the Well Care Clinic, and the employee takes no sick leave for the time used at the employee clinic,” said Assistant County Manager Ron Hunt. “We do this to support a healthy workforce that wants to continue to be well. In fact, that is the Well Care Clinic advertisement: Be well.”
Amber Lynch, public relations director for Wilson County Schools, said the system does not have a clinic for employees, but improved health is emphasized through the #WCSgetFit initiative.
“We include success stories once a month in emails, record workout videos that air on our local TV channel and work with schools to line up workout sessions for staff in their schools,” Lynch said. The city ups the ante by rewarding employees who participate in wellness challenges, attend wellness seminars at lunch and join the Wellness Works program, which launched in January, to get employees to meet health goals. In addition to the police and fire employees who have had similar wellness initiatives for decades, the Wellness Works program has about 170 participants. That program emphasizes lowered blood pressure, management of pre-diabetes and diabetic conditions as well as weight loss with 650 pounds collectively lost among participants in the first quarter of the year.
Tyson said the changes have paid off for the city.
“Our employees are the city’s most valuable asset,” he said. “We cannot offer our high level of service to residents without a dedicated, healthy workforce. Our enhanced commitment to the physical health of our employees has become a priority for the city through both the Employee Health and Wellness Center and our wellness programs.
“The cost savings are important to us, yet ensuring we are doing our part to promote healthy lifestyles among our workforce is essential.”