Grayson County Workers Who Smoke To Pay $25 Fines Under New Heal - KTEN.com - No One Gets You Closer

Grayson County Workers Who Smoke To Pay $25 Fines Under New Health Program

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SHERMAN, TX -- Hundreds of county employees and their spouses will soon have to "certify" whether or not they smoke, as part of new efforts to lower the costs of their health coverage.

By Nov. 1, they also want employees to take physicals and do surveys or pay the price. We're told the Texas Association of Counties is looking at all this as a pilot to see if it really cuts down on huge health costs paid by taxpayers.

More than $5 million per year and growing. That's the health insurance tab for 464 full-time Grayson County employees, county human resources director Andrea Mory said.

"Health care costs continue to go up each and every day," says county commissioner Phyllis James of Precinct 3.

"We want to be proactive to improve the lives of our employees. While we do that, we will absolutely lower the cost," says Mory.

In June, county commissioners hired wellness coordinator Sadie Whitlock, a nurse, at $42,000 per year. James is calling her "boots on the ground" to "raise awareness" about health issues.

"If we can make someone realize that they have high blood pressure or high cholesterol before the stroke or the massive heart attack, then we have saved taxpayer dollars," says James.

"Probably quarterly at least, she'll be doing some sort of a walking program, an education program, perhaps a weight watchers program," says Mory.

Under the new initiatives, there are 3 things county employees must do by Nov. 1.

Otherwise, they'll be charged $25 a month for each, or up to $75 total.

"We charge $25 a month if you choose to smoke and you're on our benefits plan, $25 dollars a month if you do not get your physical and your biometrics, and then there's $25 a month if you fail to fill out your health assessment through the Texas Association of Counties."

"If they do not use tobacco, they simply need to fill out the tobacco certification and certify as a non-user," says Mory. "We have had a few comments indicating that people perhaps don't want to share whether they smoke or not, and having concern over what's next."

"Meaning, are we going to attack obesity? Are we going to attack diabetes or other health conditions? And the answer at this point is no, we're doing exactly what has been proven to lower costs," says Mory.

Mory says the health assessment is a Blue Cross Blue Shield online survey with about 25 questions including nutrition, exercise habits, and health history.

"Not who has what going on in their lives, we don't want to know that," says Mory. "We will only get an aggregate report that tells us how many people are dealing with which issues. That lets us craft a program that directly addresses what our employees are dealing with."

"We hope to have less trips to the hospital, have more productive work hours," says James.

Mory says Whitlock started in June and is now working on a 1- to 3-year plan for e-mails and classes. The county will pay for 90 days of stop-smoking patches or drugs, and they aren't counting E-cigarettes in this.