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Q&A: Getting Employees To Take Better Care Of Themselves

OPB | Jan. 10, 2012 10:07 a.m. | Updated: Aug. 14, 2012 2:40 a.m. | Salem, OR

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The state of Oregon is trying to get its employees to take better care of themselves — to give up smoking and exercise more.   So it has introduced a new health care model.

In essence, it requires workers to assess their own health and then take an online class to reduce any risks.

Kristian Foden-Vencil was at the first meeting of the  ‘Joint  Labor/Management Committee’ on the new health care model Tuesday, and joins me from Salem.

Good afternoon Kristian.

Kristian: Good afternoon.

Beth: We’ll hear about the meeting in just a minute.  But how is this new system meant to work?  

Kristian: Basically, the state has turned to its workers and said:  we want to try and reward you for being healthier — or as some employees see it: penalize you for smoking or being overweight.

About 80 percent of employees have signed up for this new plan called ‘The Health Engagement Model.’

So now they have between January 1st and Feb. 15 to go on line and answer a series of health care questions.

The questions are designed to educate workers about eating well and exercising.

But the controversial part is that it also asks about your waist size and whether your smoke. If you admit to smoking, for example, you then have to take an on-line class. And if you don’t take that class, you have to pay extra for your health coverage — $20 a month for an individual; or $35 for a couple.

Beth: So that’s a couple of hundred dollars a year for one person?

Kristian: Yes. That’s correct.

Beth. What kinds of comments did you hear at the meeting today?

Krisitan: Well there was a lot of concern about those extra fees.

Especially as they come at a time workers are facing an array of other surcharges and out-of-pocket medical expenses under state cuts.

The committee actually voted to ask the state to drop fees for not joining the ‘Health Employment Model’ this year. So to treat this year as a kind of educational period.

There was also a lot of anger among union members that the state implemented this new program without talking to them as much as expected.

I understand at least one union is filling a grievance over that issue.

The committee actually discussed a list of about a dozen recommended changes for the new Health Engagement Model.

For example, it asked for an amnesty period for workers to sign up. They say employees need more time to learn about the new model, and as they learn, they’ll become more comfortable and perhaps sign up in greater numbers.

They’re also asking that workers no longer be asked to provide their ‘waist size’ in the questionnaire. They feel that to only ask for one measurement is too general and doesn’t mean much.

Beth: How many workers going online to fill-in the questionnaire?

Kristian: The Public Employees Benefit Board tells me that about 7 percent of employees who’ve signed up for the new model, have now completed the health questionnaire.

So about 5,000 out of the 70,000 people involved.

It’s hard to know if that’s good or bad. I suppose you could say they’re about 20 percent through the enrollment period and only 7 percent have signed up. But as you know, people like to discuss things and see what others are doing before they make their own move.

Beth: So what’s next Kristian?

Kristian. So the list of recommendations that the committee made will go to the Public Employee Benefits Board. It will decide whether to adopt any of them.

Then eventually we’ll see whether educating people about health and giving them incentives to give up smoking; manage their diabetes; eat better, etcetera, will stop or slow the rise health insurance premiums.

Beth: Thank you Kristian.

Kristian: My pleasure.

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