Kane County employee perk features massages and golf
By James Fuller
A program designed to lower Kane County’s health insurance costs is also seeing taxpayers help foot the bill for government employees who want to get a massage, join a golf league and hire personal trainers.
Lowering health insurance costs is a major focus of the county every time it hits the negotiating table with its employee unions. Kane County Board Chairman Karen McConnaughay recently told members of the Human Services Committee (which oversees the health insurance plan and wellness program) that unions want more of a buy-in to a wellness program that would give employees a break on health insurance premiums if they exercise. Right now, the county’s wellness program gives employees $50 of taxpayer money every time they commit to some sort of healthy activity.
Through July, taxpayers have shelled out nearly $4,000 for county employees to join Weight Watchers, enter a soccer league and learn yoga as well as join various gyms.
County board member Mark Davoust, chairman of the Human Services Committee, raised an eyebrow when asked if massages and golf are the type of activities the wellness program should reward.
“We will certainly have to take a close look at which things qualify,” Davoust said. “Those are some of those unintended consequences of offering something like this.”
But Michael Isaacson, the county health department employee who administers the wellness program, said that $4,000 represents tax dollars well spent. Isaacson said the $50 is designed to get employees into the wellness program. Employees can also receive a “wellness credit” through BlueCross BlueShield to use for co-pays. To get the $50, each employee must submit a form about the physical activity they are involved in. The form is then reviewed and the employee questioned if there are any concerns about the activity qualifying for the $50. Asked about golf and massages, Isaacson said everyone has a different idea of a physical activity that works for them.
“We want to match it to people’s lifestyles,” Isaacson said. “If you don’t ride a bike, pushing you into a bike program may not be the best way to go to get people to be active.”
In fact, Isaacson said he wishes the county could offer a cash bonus of several hundred dollars to get more employees interested in the wellness program.
But why should tax dollars be spent to encourage government employees to lose weight and monitor their diabetes?
“If you can get a few people to get their diabetes under control, or prevent a couple heart attacks and get people into a more healthy realm, we’re going to save a lot of money,” Isaacson said. “Yes, an individual is ultimately responsible for his or her own health, but our responsibility as the organization paying much of the health care costs of those individuals is to lower those costs. If we can help people to be more responsible, that means we spend less of your tax dollars.”