Wellness could lower school district’s costs

Thursday, January 24, 2008 | 7:21 p.m. CST; updated 2:10 p.m. CDT, Friday, July 18, 2008

COLUMBIA — To lower long-term health care costs, the Columbia Public School District is looking to start a program to encourage its roughly 2,000 employees to live healthier.

At a meeting of the Columbia School Board Thursday morning, Don Tatman, consultant to the district’s health benefits plan, presented the beginning of what the district is calling a “Wellness Program.” The program is intended to encourage healthy living with annual physical exams, follow-up health counseling and health-risk appraisals, Tatman said.

“An emphasis on wellness rather than benefits for sickness must become part of the culture,” he said. “Healthier employees are more productive and need less costly health care later in life.”

The district is accepting proposals until Jan. 31 from firms interested in managing this program and hopes to have chosen those firms by March 1. At least three Columbia-area firms have expressed interest.

The district provides a high level of coverage, with health benefits beginning the day an employee starts working. Part-time employees can buy in to benefits packages if they work at least 15 hours per week.

In light of the district’s recent decision to put a $10.3 million property tax levy before voters in the April 8 election, school board members seemed to focus on how to reduce costs. “With expenses at the rate they’re going,” board member David Ballenger said during the meeting, “we’re having to do something soon.”

The board also approved the ballot of candidates for three seats open this spring. The seven candidates, in the order they filed, are Rosie Tippin, current board vice president Darin Preis, incumbent appointee Tom Rose, Arch Brooks, Ines Segert, Gale Hairston and Kevin Horner. Board member David Ballenger did not file for re-election.

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