Wellness comes first


No one doubts the urgent need to cut the amount of tax dollars spent each year on health care by state government.

This year alone, $6 billion will be spent on Medicaid in Kentucky and for health insurance for current and retired state government employees, according to a task force headed by state Sen. Julian Carroll. That amounts to 26 percent of the General Fund budget, a figure that only grows with each passing budget year.

One logical place to start lowering those costs is to improve the health of the 900,000 or so Kentuckians covered by Medicaid and state health insurance plans. And the most logical place to begin that effort is where the largest number of state employees and retirees live Franklin and surrounding counties, including Fayette County.

The report by Carrolls task force, whose membership also includes state Rep. Derrick Graham, proposes that a pilot wellness program be created in a partnership with the Franklin County Health Department and the Frankfort YMCA, with similar programs in Henry, Scott, Fayette, Anderson, Woodford and Shelby counties. The program would offer health assessments, education and fitness opportunities to state health insurance plan members.

The pilot wellness program also would include a new facility for the YMCA here.

Carroll believes the program in time would save $4 for every $1 spent on it or as much as $100 million a year.

Thats $100 million a year that could go to education at every level and human services programs in need of new funding.

Is it realistic, however, to expect state workers and retirees suddenly to begin working out and dropping 20 extra pounds? Carroll told State Journal reporter Paul Glasser he believes incentives will be necessary to convince employees and retirees to adopt a healthier lifestyle.

Right now, the task force doesnt have a solid cost figure for the pilot program.

But we believe the potential for serious cost savings in the future through a government-sponsored wellness program more than justifies the General Assembly ordering a more detailed report and cost estimate. If there is ever going to be a time when health care costs to state government actually fall, it has to start with improving the health of those who work for state government.

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