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Higher premiums for overweight, smoking workers could help Columbus Co. trim fat

COLUMBUS COUNTY, NC (WWAY) — Of the 100 counties in North Carolina, Columbus County has been recognized as the unhealthiest. A cost-saving measure by the county could reward county employees for living a healthier lifestyle.

With more than 500 employees, county government is one of the largest employers in Columbus County. To save money the county recently switched healthcare providers, but County Manager Bill Clark says the premiums still carry an incredible cost.

“It’s a big expense,” he said. “This year it’s going to be about $7,000 per employee, so that’s what? $3.6 million out of a $52 million budget.”

To help trim the fat the county commission is considering adding a wellness clause to its health insurance plan. Workers who smoke or who are overweight would have to pay extra than those who live a healthier lifestyle.

“From a business standpoint, I think if you smoke, and someone else don’t smoke, and that causes your coverage to be a little bit more, I feel like the employees should compensate some of that cost,” County Commissioner Edwin Russ said.

If the proposed wellness option is approved, county leaders say that it would not only save taxpayers money, but it would also go a long way to improving Columbus Ccounty’s standing as the unhealthiest county in the state.

“It’s something that we all have to work on together as a county,” Clark said. “The county can’t fix it, the hospital can’t fix it, the health department can’t fix it. It’s something that we all have to come together to work on. We’re all responsible, and we all have to be responsible for our own health.”

County leaders say if they move forward with the wellness option, they would provide healthcare coaching to help employees meet benchmarks.

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