Requiring city employees who opt out of city health insurance to still participate in its wellness program wasn’t something most of the Common Council could agree to.
“It just seems Big Brother to me,” Ald. Paul Lehman said before the council’s Dec. 20 vote on the matter.
The proposal was denied when five members of the council – Jim Boyer, Paul Lehman, Scott Purchatzke, Eric Olson and Dave Shambeau – voted against it.
In favor of it were Steve Hackett, John Lockwood and Paul Mayou. Deb Fenske and Paul Hagen were absent.
Lehman said it does not seem right to make employees participate in a city wellness program when they are being offered an incentive to not be on the city’s health insurance.
He said making them do such a thing might result in them thinking that they might as well be on the city’s health insurance if they have to participate in the wellness program.
Beginning next year, city employees on the city health plan will have to participate in its wellness program in order to quality for a city-funded Health Reimbursement Arrangement.
In 2012, for employees contributing to their pension, the HRA will cover much of their deductibles.
Eight employees are opting out of city health insurance.
City Administrator Henry Veleker said the city began offering the opt out incentive about 10 years ago.
“When we set it, initially, we tied it to the cost of a single premium. That might have been around $200,” he said. “It (the premium) went up, of course, every year. It got to be real expensive. We ended up capping it at $450. Then, when we got in the tight budgets, we ended up reducing it to $325. That is what it is.”
Assuming that the eight employees who are opting out would be on the family plan if they were enrolled in the city’s health plan, Veleker says the city is saving a lot of money by offering this incentive.
The full premium for an employee on the family plan is $1,427 per month. Of that amount, the city pays 90 percent – or $1,284.
After subtracting the monthly opt out payment of $325 that these employees receive, the savings per employee per month is $960, he said.
For the eight employees opting out, that equates to $7,700 per month or about a $92,000 in savings per year because this incentive is offered, he said.
Veleker said it was in working with professionals from ThedaCare and the city’s Wellness Committee that the city was encouraged to bring forth the idea of requiring all city employees to participate in next year’s wellness program – even if they are not taking city health insurance.
The hope is to offer employees opting out the option to be a part of the wellness program, he said.
The city will cover the cost of $80 per employee. Veleker said all city employees were factored into the cost of having a wellness program, and without all employees participating, the city will not have an accurate snapshot of the baseline data of its employees.
Veleker told the council that internally, there was a difference of opinion regarding the issue of requiring those opting out to still participate in wellness activities.
“They are not on our insurance, but we are making an opt out payment,” he said. “The wellness program is to improve the wellness of all our employees.”
Veleker also noted that for those currently opting out, circumstances could change that would result in them wanting to be on the city’s health plan.
Thus, he made the case that any employee might go back to the city plan and should participate in the wellness program.
Library Director Peg Burington said employees opting out may already be required to do wellness activities through their spouse’s health insurance.
Veleker said that came up during discussions and that such employees would not have been required to be in the city’s wellness plan if they were already in one.
Lehman said, “I thought the intent of wellness is to keep premiums down.”
Veleker said that is a valid argument but that the overall goal of the city is to improve the health of all its employees.
Mayou agreed, saying it is a benefit for the city to have healthy employees. There is then less down time.
Police Chief Tim Goke said, “If you’re concerned about health, then ban everyone from smoking. Where is the line drawn? I question the legality of whether you can make employees do this when they’re not on city health insurance.”