OTTUMWA — The City Council will pay the $55 cost per Wellness Program participant but won’t give city employees a $10 per month discount on their health insurance premiums for participating in the program.

The council unanimously approved the $55 during Monday’s special meeting.

Finance Director Mike Heffernan brought the matter before the council. Last year, the city re-started a smaller version of the Wellness Program that was in effect several years ago.

“We are into the second year of a two-year contract with Ottumwa Regional Health Center,” Heffernan said. “Last year we had the employees pay $7 to participate.”

Heffernan then introduced Elaine Leppert, who presented Wellness Program information on behalf of Ottumwa Regional Health Center where she’s director of healthcare services.

Before the Industrial Revolution, people were more active, ate more of the right things and used smaller portions, Leppert said.

“If lifestyles don’t change, today’s parents will outlive their children,” she said. “Wellness is something we don’t appreciate until something goes wrong.”

Technology is “great” but too many people lead sedentary lives because of computers and desk work.

“Today we are less physical, we eat differently and portions have tripled,” Leppert said. “That’s why we’re seeing more diabetes, more heart attacks.”

The cause of such health problems is about 15 percent genetic but the rest depends on lifestyle choices, according to Leppert. The “all you can eat” mentality was “the start of our problems,” she added.

Leppert also said health authorities have already projected a shorter lifespan for a child born today, but that could change if people are willing to modify their behavior.

She pointed out “four modifiable behaviors” that can prevent many health problems and cut health costs: Exercise at least three times a week, eat the right balance of nutritious foods, avoid using tobacco and see a doctor regularly.

“Many people think they’re healthy because they’re alive, yet they can’t walk up the stairs,” Leppert added.

Only 78 employees/spouses participated last year and the city has about 200 employees, Heffernan said. Based on that low participation, the Insurance Committee recommended two changes to increase participation — paying the $55 per participant and giving employees a $10 per month discount on their monthly health insurance premiums.

“We’ll be watching for participation,” Councilman Gordon Aistrope said. “If employees don’t participate, then they’ll pay a higher rate.”

Mayor Dale Uehling said he’s convinced the Wellness Program is needed because health insurance is a big issue.

“I think we can get back to 60-70 percent participation,” he added.

Councilman Keith Caviness said “to be cooperative” he would vote in favor of the program; but, if participation isn’t 75 percent or better, then he wouldn’t support paying all the costs.

How to market health to employees was one of Councilwoman Shannon Addison’s concerns.

“That’s a significant image — parents outliving their children. What can Ottumwa Regional do to help the city promote health so we can prevent such high costs?” Addison said.

Leppert suggested talking to employees as a group and answering their questions.

“The biggest worry is that if I tell my employer, will my employer get rid of me?” she said. “Incentives would be up to the city.”

Councilman Bob Meyers said school district employees had an option for flu shots in their health program. Leppert said Ottumwa Regional would do the shots for the city group.

Councilman Mitch Niner was unable to attend the meeting.

Cindy Toopes can be reached at (641) 683-5376 or via e-mail at cindy@ottumwacourier.com.

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