Tampa City Council approves voluntary wellness centers for employee health care

10/28/10 Seán Kinane
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City of Tampa employees will have the option to attend a wellness center instead of their regular doctor under an agreement approved today by the City Council. The city’s director of human resources, Kimberly Crum, says the voluntary program will cut costs and improve the health of Tampa employees and retirees.

"The benefits to employees include convenience, each visit they make to a voluntary wellness center will be zero cost payments as well as zero co-payment for generic prescriptions that are stocked there. They'll have continuity of care, seeing the same doctor at each location. And they'll receive support for wellness initiatives like diabetes management, weight loss and tobacco cessation, three of the primary risk factors that drive a great portion of our costs."

Crum says the city spent $35 million on healthcare costs in the latest fiscal year to cover 10,000 people. The agreement with the company CareATC to provide the wellness centers comes as the City chooses its health insurance provider for the upcoming year, possibly switching from Humana to United HealthCare. Crum says Tampa will save nearly a million dollars in insurance costs by going with a wellness program.

"Humana's best and final offer was $38.6 million or an increase of 13.9 per cent. In contrast, UHC's United Health Care's best and final offer was just over $36 million or an increase of just over 6 per cent. And their best and final offer, after considering voluntary wellness clinics and the savings that they would provide, was just over $35 million. You see the premium savings with the voluntary wellness clinics listed at $951,773"

Crum predicts the city will also save $550,000 in workers' compensation costs with the wellness program – that she says will save Tampa a total of $4.1 million. But Council member Mary Mulhern, who voted against the measure, says Crum isn’t taking into account the City’s costs of hiring doctors and running the clinics.

Mulhern: "And that's a recurring cost every year, $2.8 million. So that's the cost of running these clinics based on your numbers, which, you know I certainly haven't had time to really look into, but what my question is ... so if we accept this estimate of $4 million your actual savings you have to subtract the costs, those administrative costs, right?"

Crum: "The cost and the savings in the health plan should be a one to one trade off, that is the conservative estimate that we're using. So yes, we will still pay each year, based on the numbers that were provided $2.68 million dollars for a full year to operate all three."

Some Council members, including Charlie Miranda and Mulhern, were upset at how long it took Mayor Pam Iorio’s administration to notify them that wellness centers were being considered.

Mulhern: "But you had this proposal in July, you said."

Crum: "They made their proposal in July."

Mulhern: "So we could have heard about it in July."

Crum: "You could have heard about it earlier, certainly, than you have."

Mulhern: "I just want to point out, too, that Mr. Miranda asked for thirty days and then he said you gave us a week, but I only found out this was on the agenda yesterday."

The city’s consultant, Chuck Tobin from Gallagher Benefits Services, said two cities – Clearwater and Lakeland - have had success with wellness centers.

"We put this in with the city of Lakeland several years ago and they achieved savings of about $1 million a year off their health plan which is a significant size smaller than what the City of Tampa is, and that includes the price of running the wellness center. It's a smaller center, it only deals with employees, dependents aren't eligible to participate in it."

Tampa’s voluntary wellness center passed 4 to 3, with Council members Mulhern, Charlie Miranda, and Joe Caetano voting against it. A week ago, Council voted down the three-year, $7.6 million contract.

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