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Towns preach health message to hold down insurance rates

fr healthfairEric Messer only has one complaint about the health and wellness initiatives the town of Waynesville has been pushing with its employees. The fitness tracking bracelets passed out by the town weren’t designed with sewer plant workers in mind.

“They don’t do so well immersed in water,” said Messer, who works at the town’s wastewater plant.

Messer was among more than 300 town employees from Waynesville, Canton, Maggie Valley and Clyde who cycled through an annual health and wellness fair staged in the gym of Waynesville’s rec center last Friday.

Attendance was mandatory, but getting off work for a couple of hours wasn’t the only perk. Aside from the free croissant sandwiches, employees were able to parley with over three dozen health and wellness vendors and organizations. Employees swarmed the fair en masse over the course of the morning, milling about the tables and booths grabbing up free pens, fridge magnets and flyers for everything from vitamin vendors to fitness studios.

“This is a fun way for employees to get information from various resources in a relaxed environment,” said Brittany Buchanan, Waynesville’s human resources manager.

But there was an ulterior motive for the four towns in Haywood County who sent their employees to the fair.

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“A healthier workforce is a more productive workforce,” said Andrew Bowen, Maggie Valley’s town planner who can often be seen sporting a kayak on top of his car come Friday afternoon.

There’s a direct financial benefit, as well.

“To have healthier employees means lower insurance rates,” said Buchanan. “The impact of workplace wellness can be seen in the bottom line for health insurance costs.”

When employees’ claims go up, insurance companies respond by jacking up the town’s rates.

The town, in turn, has to pass the higher costs along to employees, whether it’s higher out-of-pocket costs or higher deductibles.

“You can offer better benefits to employees if you keep your group plan costs low,” said Lisa Stinnett, Canton’s town clerk.

Aside from the annual health and wellness fair, Waynesville uses a suite of strategies to keep health and wellness on employees’ radar, such as the fitness tracking bracelets that measure activity level and help combat sedentary lifestyles.

Waynesville also has a staff health and wellness committee and hosts monthly lunch-and-learns on health topics, which have steadily grown in attendance. 

Ideally, the concept of health and wellness seeps into employees’ consciousness and trickles down to family members who may be on the town’s insurance plan as well, Buchanan said.

“Their whole family is healthier,” Buchanan said.

Buchanan is proud to report that Waynesville escaped with essentially no health plan rate hike last year, and is hoping to see the same again this year, thanks to holding the line on claims.

As for the durability of Waynesville’s fitness bracelets? Messer wasn’t the only one with issues.

“A lot of our employees deal with water and nasty stuff,” Buchanan said, from trash haulers to water line repair crews. So she’s got new waterproof fitness bracelets on order.

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