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    Times are tough all over.And in order to survive this uncertain economic climate, businesses are cutting back, including in vital areas such as health insurance.
    However, here in Cumberland County, some entities are trying to educate the public that when it comes to beating back the high costs of health insurance coverage, a little investment in prevention now will go a long way toward preserving the bottom line further down the road.
    Leading the proactive charge toward a future of lower health costs is the Fayetteville-Cumberland County Chamber of Commerce. On Jan. 15, the Chamber announced the launch of a new health plan exclusive to Chamber members — ChamberCare. According to the Fayetteville-Cumberland County Chamber of Commerce, “ChamberCare, administered by WellPath and in partnership with Doctor’s Direct Health Care, gives small businesses big business benefits along with affordable premiums and access to a strong, local health network comprised of local physicians and the Cape Fear Valley Health System.”
    The crux of the Chamber’s plan is Know Your Number — a disease risk assessment tool that employs patented next generation morbidity modeling for identifying the risk for onset of chronic disease and disease complications.
Gary Cooper, director of special projects for the Chamber, says the program is typically only available to much larger companies and is expected to save small business thousands through preventive measures.
    “What makes ChamberCare unique is that premiums that WellPath provides to our businesses will be as competitive, if not cheaper, than any other carrier that currently does business in Cumberland County,” said Cooper, “but it carries an added feature to it that is a wellness piece called Know Your Number, where Doctor’s Direct will go to the employer and will take vitals of all the employees on the healthcare plan — height, weight, cholesterol count — all those vitals, and they will, with the assistance of physicians in the community, come up with a plan for them to be more healthy. So, in the long run, that’s going to be better for the small business healthcare plan because their employees are going to be more healthy and eventually they’ll see their health premiums decrease because of the health of their employees.”
    Cooper says that among those in the community singing the praises of the plan is Mike Nagowski, president of the Cape Fear Valley Health System.
    “He (Nagowski) sees this as another way to help eliminate some of the uninsured costs that they write off every year,” said Cooper. “About 60 percent of all uninsured Americans are employed by small businesses … which means at some point they’re going to have to have healthcare and if they don’t have insurance and they don’t have means to pay for it, then folks like Cape Fear Valley will treat them but they will have to write them off. So Mike was very excited about the fact that we have this plan. He sees it not only as a benefit to Cape Fear Valley but to all citizens because we own that hospital … So it’s a way of making it more profitable.”
    The program is available only to Chamber members and can be sold only by insurance salesmen and brokers who are Chamber members. Cooper says that currently, seven different groups have received quotes under the ChamberCare plan, with one business that is very close to actually implementing the plan.
    Not only are local businesses already showing interest in the plan, but a handful of groups across the state have, according to Cooper, expressed “envy” over the ChamberCare plan.
    “Since Jan. 15, I have talked to the Raleigh Chamber, the Asheville Chamber, the Wayne County/Goldsboro Chamber,” said Cooper, “and they are all envious of fact that we were able to put something together because they have all been looking at this or trying to develop something like this for a number of years and have not been able to come up with it.”
    This idea of using an ounce of prevention to prevent a pound of illnesses is not unique to the Chamber. The city of Fayetteville also utilizes a wellness plan to save money on health costs … both for the city and its employees.
Terrie Hutaff, the city of Fayetteville’s human resources director, says the city’s projected healthcare costs for the current fiscal year are $10.6 million, with the city’s share being $8.4 million — that’s for 1,200 employees and 130 retirees.
    However, Hutaff says the city has started a wellness program utilizing biometric screening through third party administrator United Healthcare to lower future health costs. The program has been carried out in several phases: phase one was a survey to employees asking about health-related issues with the answers sent to United Healthcare for a follow-up with employees who had significant issues. Phase two is voluntary biometric screening, with incentives for employees who participate. Next year, Hutaff says the city hopes to move toward charging premium differentials for people who participate in the biometric screening.
    “What biometric screening gets us is those people who may be unhealthy and don’t even know they have issues but will now find out about it,” said Hutaff. “We are also going to start this year through risk management to offer some different wellness discounts … exercise classes … those types of things; we still have a good portion going toward lifestyle issues, so those are the people we’re going after, as well as those people who are unhealthy who may not currently be receiving treatment because they didn’t realize they had high blood pressure or diabetes.”
    Hutaff says the city has received a grant to help pay for the medicine needed by workers suffering from diabetes and high cholesterol. She says this program — which started in the city of Asheville — prevents serious complications by covering the pharmacy co-pays for those who can’t afford the medicine and would simply go without.
    “It seems to us to be very smart to pay for the co-pay for those types of illnesses instead of paying for, say, open heart surgery,” said Hutaff. “In the short term it may cost us but in the long term if it saves us one claim we can more than recoup our cost of paying for the co-pays for those types of medicines.”

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