Increased health care, clinic for county employees

By Monroe Roark
Times Correspondent

Two major initiatives approved March 31 by the Henry County Board of Commissioners are expected to be of great benefit to employees who are under the county’s health insurance plan.

The board approved the allocation of up to $700,000 to establish an on-site medical clinic at the county annex on Zack Hinton Parkway in McDonough, headquarters for the police and fire departments and also home to other offices. The facility is expected to be open in October.

About 1,400 county employees and their dependants were on the county health plan this past year. Several hundred of them work in the county annex where the clinic will be located.

Also, with health insurance premiums set to go up 10.5 percent this year, the board decided to absorb that cost within the county budget and not pass it on to the employees. The total cost of the increase is just over $1.5 million.

At the March 31 special called meeting, county manager Jim Walker detailed the expected savings to the county as well as its employees with the establishment of the clinic. He and his staff reviewed the structure of several health clinics in public sector organizations and, after a process that included reviewing several proposals and inspecting a few existing facilities, recommended that CIGNA operate the county’s clinic.

Walker said that the clinic will initially be open about 32 hours a week and staffed by a nurse, nurse practitioner and receptionist. Eligible patients - all county-insured employees and dependents - will not have any co-pays or additional insurance billing.

There will also be a dispensary carrying up to 40 of the most commonly prescribed medications, available at no cost to patients.

There are start-up costs to build the clinic and a one-time CIGNA setup and service fee, but Walker said the benefit to employees will more than outweigh the upfront cost.

The new plan includes a $50 surcharge per month for employees or family members who use tobacco products, and the same surcharge to those whose spouses are eligible for health insurance with their own employers but elect to enroll in the Henry County plan.

By having the county pay the premium increase, the county saved each employee between $1,400 and $1,800 over a year’s time, Walker said.

In addition to the 10.5-percent hike this year, premiums went up about 14 percent last year, according to Walker, and county staff was able to keep this year’s renewal from rising even more through negotiation and some restructuring - saving almost enough to pay for the establishment of the clinic.

The county’s health insurance contract calls for payments not to exceed $16.85 million in premiums over the next year, but it could be less than through initiatives like the on-site clinic, for which each visit will save the county more than $100 that would be billed to insurance from other medical facilities used by employees.

These healthcare changes are part of a larger ongoing plan to address a variety of employee needs, said Walker, who has been looking to reduce the 12-percent annual employee turnover at the county, more than four times the national average. That number has already fallen to just over 10 percent.

Tackling that issue involves several factors, the most visible of which is employee salaries but which also includes the retirement plan and other things such as training and certification.

“We are trying to pay attention to all of this,” said Walker. “This is all part of a greater scheme to take care of our folks.”