Wellness efforts cited in JCPS stable health costs

Jefferson City Public School’s health care costs have remained reasonable, possibly due to a wellness program the district implemented in 2008, chief financial officer Jason Hoffman told the Board of Education Monday.

“We’re pleased we are getting to maintain the same benefits, with no change in premiums, from either the employees or the board this year,” Hoffman said.

Hoffman suggested the district has done a good job of implementing its wellness program, but still needs to work on measuring outcomes from it. The program not only was designed to lower health care costs, but also improve the health of the district’s workforce.

The Jefferson City Public School district is self-insured, but in recent history its health insurance program hasn’t been fiscally strong. In 2008 and 2009, the district’s

medical trust account — which collects payments from the Board of Education, employees and retirees — had a fund balance of $411,000, but only because it borrowed $300,000 from the district’s general fund.

The situation “wasn’t great,” Hoffman said.

Hoffman said that $300,000 boost has been repaid; he believes the wellness program might be a contributing factor to the medical trust fund’s improved status.

He also noted employee and employer contributions to the district’s health care insurance program haven’t risen nearly as steeply as the national average.

National wide, health insurance costs have crept up at 8-10 percent per year, while Jefferson City’s costs have only risen 11 percent over a five-year period.

The wellness program gained steam this year with the new hire of program coordinator Becky Pfenenger, who started work last September. Federal funding from the Affordable Health Care Act made her position possible.

Pfenenger’s job is to design and implement health and wellness programs for the district’s employees. She works with an advisory committee of faculty, administrators and staff who carry the information back to their home schools to share with their colleagues. Some of those building-level leaders already have created fitness and nutrition programs, such as after-school walking groups.

On of the program’s first initiatives was to offer flu vaccines for free to participants in the district’s health insurance program and at cost to other employees.

The program has also registered 662 personnel for biometric screenings. The tests — which draw blood so that people can better understand their cholesterol, blood pressure, glucose and potassium levels — will be conducted in March and April. Employees who participate in the biometric screenings, and a health risk assessment, earn a $30 per-month discount on their insurance premiums.

In other news, the Board of Education:

• Approved raises for employees for next year. Faculty on the salary schedule each will be moved forward one “step,” at a cost of $610,000 to the district. The increase is the equivalent of a 1.8 percent raise for teachers.

Other classes of employees also will see a 1.8 percent increase in their paychecks next school year, Hoffman said.

The decision could be revisited in June, when the Cole County Assessor’s Office has more information available and the state’s budget is finalized.

• Honored staffer Terra Parris for being named the 2012 Outstanding Campaign Coordinator for the United Way.

• Heard a report from David Luther, assistant to the superintendent, on his trip to Bentonville, Ark., to see how a career academy high school operates in that city.

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