Wellness, benefits fair draws public employees
A first-time combined wellness and benefits fair on Friday for Martha's Vineyard municipal employees attracted a good turnout, with about 90 people attending. The health fair was expanded this year to provide employees cost and benefit information on different health plans.
Judith Jardin, the Vineyard's wellness coordinator for the Cape Cod Municipal Health Group, which sponsored the event, said she was pleased that the nearly 10 percent of the Island's insured municipal employees who attended asked a lot of questions of health providers and participated in many wellness offerings. The average attendance at similar fairs throughout the state is three percent, she said.
"They were able to talk to representatives they normally wouldn't see," she said. Representatives from Blue Cross, Harvard Pilgrim, and Delta Dental health plans and other providers said they saw more people than they had expected on a Friday evening.
Ms. Jardin said the program was not meant so much to encourage people to change their health plans, but to make sure they have the best plan for their families. "Our hope is that employees will come to understand that the most expensive health plan offered does not necessarily offer the best benefits," she said. In some of Island towns, she noted, employees changing plans could save both them and the town and the district up to thousands of dollars per employee.
Over 75 percent of Island public employees and officials have outdated and expensive indemnity plans instead of the newer managed care plans with preferred provider organizations (PPOs) and health maintenance organizations (HMOs), which cover preventative care and have no maximum payout. Those types of plans offer benefits such as reimbursement for fitness clubs or weight loss programs.
"The whole thrust is to keep people healthy," Ms. Jardin said. The health group is trying to get rid of the fear some employees may have of changing plans, she said.
The Cape Cod Municipal Health Group, which buys health plans for Dukes and Barnstable counties, won't know how many employees decide to change health plans until the end of June, Ms. Jardin said. May is an open enrollment month.
The health group has projected a 10 percent increase in health insurance costs on the Vineyard in the coming fiscal year.
The highest cost is in Tisbury, where health insurance alone for all town and school employees and retirees will be $2,381,000 in the coming fiscal year, up from almost $2,180,000 in the current year, according to treasurer Timothy McLean. West Tisbury's health insurance for this fiscal year and next fiscal year is $371,000, up from $304,553 in 2006.
The municipal employees and their families who attended the health fair also were able to get information on employee assistance, deferred compensation and the county retirement fund. They also took advantage of blood pressure and hearing tests, a child I.D. program, bicycle safety tips, and information from chiropractors and yoga practitioners.