Grayson commissioners talk about charging county employees who continue to smoke after 2014

Grayson County commissioners Tuesday voted to approve changes to the County’s employement policy that will require county employees covered under the county insurance to get yearly physicals or pay a fine for not doing so. Commissioners said they are giving employees up to seven months to get the physical which must include biometrics and to complete an online health assessment. If the employee doesn’t do those things, he or she will be charged $25 a month for every month until the requirements are met.

Spouses covered on a county employee’s health insurance and other adult dependents must also comply with the requirements or pay the fees.

County leaders said the move is aimed at making sure county employees are aware of their health conditions and any changes they may need to make to improve them.

“Someone who doesn’t care enough to get a physical every year shouldn’t care whether we charge them,” said Commissioner Jeff Whitmire. “It’s a free choice. Physicals are covered, it doesn’t cost them anything other than the time to go and they are getting 100 percent coverage or a substantial contribution (to their insurance) then they should be willing to do something.”

Whitmire added, however, “We are not even requiring that they follow up on their doctor’s advice. We are just making sure that they are informed about their problems.”

Commissioner Phyllis James said County leaders recently learned that Grayson County has the most claimants in the Texas Association of Counties health pool with a chronic condition. The County had 283 employees with such a condition. James said it only makes sense to make sure employees are aware of their health conditions and ways to improve them. The aim is to help employees solve medical issues while they are small and inexpensive rather than waiting until they are life threatening and expensive.

County commissioners have struggled for years to balance the costs of health care coverage for county employees and the need to make sure the employees are adequately covered. In the past, commissioners have argued that the money commissioners have to set aside to pay for health insurance keeps them from being able to fund something else county tax payers (including county employees) want or need like raises for county employees or more road repairs.

Tuesday, James said county employees will make $35 for taking the health assessment. The County is then also paid $35 for each employee who takes the assessment. That money comes from the TAC as part of its wellness benefit to the County.

One of the most expensive threats to people’s health, Whitmire said, is tobacco use and the County would like to see county employees who use tobacco stop because that is what is best for the employees health and the county’s pocketbook. If the employees don’t want to stop, then the County will eventually be adding a surcharge to that employee’s health insurance premium.

James said the County will not implement the charge until 2015 and is willing to do everything practical to help people quit including paying co pays for prescription medication to assist with smoking cessation. The County will pay that co pay for up to three months. After that, Whitmire said, the employees are on their own for the medication though the County will be continually offering other smoking cessation help.

County commissioners recently agreed to hire a wellness coordinator who will help employees comply with the new rules.


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