LEESBURG — Lee County commissioners decided at a special called meeting Friday morning to take a closer look at the county’s employee wellness program to determine whether new federal regulations under the Affordable Care Act made the program worth the cost to the county.
The meeting was called so that the commission could approve a resolution updating the short-term work program element of the county’s comprehensive plan for review by the Southwest Georgia Regional Commission.
“I originally understood this was not due until Feb. 1, but I was informed that we needed to take this action by the end of the year,” County Manager Ron Rabun said. “I appreciate all of you taking the time to come in for this matter.”
After passing the resolution, which is required to meet the state’s minimum planning standards for local comprehensive plans, commissioners got into an extended discussion about the wellness program.
The Lee County plan originally called for a six-month evaluation to determine what improvements were made on baseline health scores determined by individual health screenings. Employees who did not improve adequately on their scores were to start paying non-wellness insurance rates.
But Rabun said he’d been informed by plan provider CHP that the Affordable Care Act specifically says such evaluations must be based on at least a yearlong period.
“I was looking this over, and I grew a little frustrated,” the county manager said. “I figured with all the mandates, maybe we should just drop the wellness program and give all of our employees memberships at the YMCA. It would be cheaper: $30,000 compared to around $80,000.
“My recommendation is that we send this matter back to our Personnel Committee to discuss whether we need to do anything significant or go in another direction entirely. I’m disappointed in the direction this is going in, and I think we need more information before we make a decision.”
District 1 Commissioner Greg Frich said that while he “applauds the previous board’s work on this,” the commission might need to take a new approach. District 2’s Luke Singletary echoed that sentiment.
“If we’re talking $80,000 to $100,000 for a wellness plan when we know we need to cut $300,000 from our budget, we need to see if this is offering enough to warrant that kind of spending,” Singletary said. “We need to see if we’re getting enough bang for our bucks.”
Commission Chairman Rick Muggridge said that while the current wellness plan may not be the best for the county, having healthier employees will remain crucial.
“Our (insurance) costs are going to be driven by large claims,” Muggridge said. “If we’re going to ask the taxpayers of this county to be responsible for our employees’ health, it’s incumbent upon us to try and have healthy employees.”
District 1 Commissioner Dennis Roland questioned elements of the county’s comprehensive plan, in particular the section that says the county should “implement a plan to discourage developments with septic systems and private treatment systems.”
“Did they (the Regional Commission) come up with this or us?” Roland asked. “Because I’d rather see the county get out of the sewage business.”
Rabun said the commission could make changes to the plan but indicated it would be a “complex process involving formal and informal meetings as well as public hearings.”
The commission agreed to tentatively plan a meeting of the Personnel Committee on Jan. 24 at 9 a.m. to discuss the wellness program.