OPEA Weighs in on Plan to Revise Health Insurance

The Oklahoma Public Employees Association recently attended the third meeting of the State Employees Health Insurance Review Working Group. The group is charged with looking at suggestions and proposals to make the insurance system for state employees more cost effective.

OPEA was the only organization representing state employees to attend. Dr. David Kendrick, Associate Provost for Health Strategies at the University of Oklahoma, gave a detailed presentation on medical management.

“Dr. Kendrick’s presentation regarding plan design and medical management were informative,” said OPEA’s Deputy Director Scott Barger. “Changes to the way we do business in Oklahoma could certainly save money, but many of the suggestions Dr. Kendrick suggested will take considerable planning and education.”

Kendrick suggested incentives between the employee and the employer were closely aligned. “Generally speaking, if it is good for the employee it is good for the employer,” he said. “Employees are concerned about cost and so are employers. Both have more in common than you think.”

Kendrick told the working group that the state has several ways to help influence the struggle to control costs and maximize benefits. “There are several models out there in which the company, in this case the State of Oklahoma, can put incentives in place to encourage a change in behavior that represent risk to the system. You can also offer environmental changes to the workplace that help improve the quality of life.”

Dr. Kendrick walked the group through several different companies who have reformed their insurance offerings to control costs. Safeway, the most prominent plan to gain national attention, utilized a series of cost incentives around the four largest contributing conditions to insurance utilization, obesity, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and diabetes. “Seventy-four percent of all healthcare costs stem from these four conditions,” said Kendrick. “To help control costs, Safeway discounts employees’ portions of insurance premiums based on their performance, and improvement, on four tests that measure tobacco usage, weight, and blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Participation is voluntary but if the employee does not test, they automatically are given the highest premiums.”

According the Kendrick, Safeway was able to reduce costs by 30% over three years and the company’s obesity and smoking rates were 70% of the national average.

State Insurance Commissioner Kim Holland said health, medical and dental care costs the state, state employees and retirees just under $1 billion a year.

Senator Bill Brown, co-chairman of the working group said: “State employees and educators could help reduce costs by taking better care of themselves. The state spent over $65 million last year on the top 25 prescription related to high cholesterol and acid-reflux, and blood pressure.”

“OPEA will continue to be involved with this working group to monitor the discussions and protect the interests of state employees,” said Barger. “This is just another reason your membership in OPEA is so important. If you are not a member and cannot see a reason to join, look no further than the cost of your insurance for motivation to join with us.”

The working group will meet again on the following dates and times:

Tuesday, September 8, at 10:00 a.m., Room 412C
Tuesday, September 22, at 10:00 a.m. (tentative)
Tuesday, October 6, at 10:00 a.m. (tentative)
Tuesday, October 20, at 10:00 a.m. (tentative)

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