Quit smoking, take a physical: Fort Worth offering health insurance discounts

By Scott Nishimura snishimura@bizpress.net

Fort Worth is continuing to move on increasing health care costs, offering discounts off of employees’ 2016 insurance coverage to those who take annual physicals next year, sign affidavits that they don’t use tobacco, or quit using tobacco.

The quit-tobacco program will offer allowances for drugs and treatments like hypnosis, acupuncture and gum, “whatever they fee like they need to help them quit smoking,” Brian Dickerson, the city of Fort Worth’s human resources director, told City Council members Tuesday.

The city is also expanding a relationship it began earlier this year with USMD, which has offered low-cost visits at a clinic in the hospital district on Fort Worth’s Near Southside. Beginning next year, those services will be available at the same lower co-payments at all USMD clinics, he said.

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The city is also working on securing a partnership with Walmart that would offer discounted prices on drugs, and will continue a relationship with Compass Health Services that offers gift cards to employees and their dependents who call in for services that ultimately save the city money.

Dickerson reiterated statistics that show 5 percent of the city’s health plan members are driving 66 percent of plan costs. As many as 70 percent of plan members don’t have a primary care physician.

The establishment of primary care relationships, by itself, should save the city money, Dickerson said.

“They drive down costs through regular monitoring of their patients,” he said. “We’re going to see lower costs, lower use of ERs, and and lower numbers of inpatient days.”

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The city staff has been on the hunt for ways to drive down the city’s health care costs. An actuary has estimated the city’s claims costs should rise more than 9 percent in 2015, but Dickerson said the staff is estimating an 8 percent increase.

“We’re saying we can offset some of these expenses,” he said, although he cautioned “we can’t guarantee that that will happen.”

Council members responded favorably to Dickerson’s presentation.

“It’s obvious that healthcare in this country is no longer a benefit,” Council member Dennis Shingleton said. “It’s a work ethic. It’s not something that you just stick in your wallet.”

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Council member Gyna Bivens told Dickerson the staff plan “really strives to impact the pocketbook in a positive fashion.”

Under the plan, all employees on the city’s health plan will be required to complete an annual physical in 2015. Those who do will receive a $23.08 discount per paycheck – or about $50 per month – on their 2016 premium, Dickerson said.

The plan requires spouses and domestic partners covered by insurance to complete physicals in 2016.

All covered employees will be required to complete an affidavit during open enrollment in October 2015 that they haven’t used tobacco – any type of tobacco – in the previous four months.

Those who do, or complete a cessation program, will receive a discount of $23.08 per paycheck against their 2016 insurance premium. Covered spouses and domestic partners will be required to complete the affidavits beginning in 2016.

The program will offer up to $900 for medications and up to $500 in reimbursement for treatments like hypnosis, acupuncture and gum. It will offer reimbursement for up to one year of “e-cigarettes,” because “sometimes they end up just being a substitute,” Dickerson said.