Soaring health costs weigh on county as budget talks get going

Feb 4, 2014 By Eric Blom, Staff Writer

Hoping to find an equitable method of compensating for county employees, Fremont County Commissioners are looking for a standard for comparing jobs and salaries.

The county board is to begin its budgeting process in April for fiscal year 2015.

"We've had a number of departments and elected officials come to us in the interim talking about the need for salary adjustments for some staff," Commissioner Stephanie Kessler said. "I think that triggered us to get ahead of the budget work to talk about our strategy for looking at salaries."

Commissioners have heard concerns some employees are paid less than those in other departments who have similar duties.

If the commissioners decide the county can afford to give raises, they will first look to even out employees' compensation, Kessler said. She emphasized that the commission has not yet received revenue projections from the Fremont County Treasurer's Office or decided there is money to increase salaries.

At a Jan. 27 work session, commissioners began the process by looking at a job classification system used by the Wyoming Department of Workforce Services and the U.S. Department of Labor, Kessler said.

Health costs

Also weighing on commissioners is the price of the employee health benefit plan, which rose 15 percent last year to $6 million. Increasing claims have been driving up the cost for several years.

"The increasing health care costs have already affected the commission's thinking in that we're investing a lot of time now last fall and this winter to revise our employee health program so that we can try to control costs better but still offer the best coverage we can for our employees," Kessler said.

"We're redesigning our wellness program, but that's still in process."

The wellness program aims to lower claims by rewarding employees who try to keep healthy and manage chronic diseases. A graph Fremont County Treasurer Scott Harnsberger presented at the work session stuck in Kessler's mind. It shows total employee salaries rose 2 percent in the last five years when adjusted for inflation. In the same period, the total cost of employee benefits, which includes the health benefit plan and payments to social security and Wyoming retirement among others, rose 32 percent after adjusting for inflation.

Wellness plan

Commissioners addressed the wellness program at their Jan. 14 meeting.

An employee committee that provides advice and information about the health benefit plan recommended the county require its workers to undergo some evaluations to assess their health risks before they can receive insurance from the county.

Components of the evaluations committee recommended were online survey assessing health risk factors, a blood chemistry test, a test to determine tobacco use, measuring blood pressure, and measuring height, weight and girth.

Employees would not have to pass any test, the employee group stressed. The evaluations would be used to inform employees what they can do to better manage their health.

The committee recommended commissioners increase monetary incentives for employees who meet health benchmarks or adopt healthier habits. Other employees at the meeting were concerned requiring the tests would invade their privacy and were worried about the security of information the evaluations would produce.

Commissioners liked increasing the rewards but said they needed more time to consider making the evaluations mandatory for participation in the health benefit plan.

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