The Nanny State Comes to Loudon County
By: Austin Shaver
At Monday night’s Loudon County Commission Workshop, the commission heard proposals from Chris Wampler, the county’s insurance agent, regarding insurance packages for county employees for the upcoming year. As part of the presentation, Wampler also proposed the implementation of a wellness clinic that would be operated by Living Well Health Solutions, LLC, of Charlotte, North Carolina (http://www.lwhsolutions.com).
The proposal states that the clinic would be operated at a cost to the county of $68,952.00 per year. This is based on a $25 per month per employee charge as well as a one-time charge of $38 per employee for a lab screening. Subsequent to the lab screening, the employee would be given a health report card indicating any high-risk areas based on the lab results and lifestyle factors. Initially, the clinic would be offered free to county employees only, but may later be made available to family members. County employees would be able to visit the clinic for well-care, lifestyle consultation, and recommendations for health improvement based on the lab screening and office exam.
However, Wampler also noted that certain incentives would be implemented to encourage employee participation in the clinic; chief among them would be a proposed $40 fine for failure to attend the clinic and/or failure to comply with the clinic’s recommendations. Wampler stated that one example of a possible recommendation that could be given to employees would be to walk or run for 30 minutes/day, four days/week. Although the final dollar amount would be determined at a later time, it was explained that the clinic would monitor the employee’s compliance with its recommendations and then notify the claims administrator if the employee had failed to comply with its instructions. Once notified, the employee would then be fined the set amount.
Several commissioners raised concerns both as to the propriety of dictating employees’ lifestyles in addition to possible HIPAA violations that could result from the disclosure of such information. I expressed dismay that the county would consider dictating the lives of its employees through the threat of monetary fines and wondered where the line would be drawn as to what areas of life could then be controlled by the government. My concerns were echoed by Commissioner Roy Bledsoe, who asked if the county would be able to tell him that he could no longer drink coffee or that he could no longer eat food with fat in it.
Other commissioners took a more moderated stance. Commissioner Don Miller stated that, while he had no concerns with fining the employees for failing to attend the clinic, he did not feel that it was the county’s place to then fine them for failure to comply with the clinic’s recommendations. Commissioner Harold Duff noted that, since the county pays for more than 90% of its employees’ insurance costs, it should be allowed to mandate such procedures. His opinion was supported by Commissioner Nancy Marcus, who raised her previously stated concerns regarding the increasing percentage of insurance costs being paid by the county’s tax dollars.
Ultimately, the decision was left to the commission to ponder before its next meeting on June 1. Wampler also informed the commission that the city of Lenoir City had signed a letter of intent to enroll in the clinic program and that Lenoir City Utility Board had also begun negotiations regarding the program. Finally, I asked Wampler where the clinic would be located, and he said that it would be leasing space in his office on Highway 321 in Lenoir City with a possible location in Loudon if necessary.
Clearly, as indicated by the questions I asked at the meeting, I have some grave concerns with this proposal. First among my concerns is that this is something that is beyond the purview of any government – local, state, federal, or multi-national/global/one-world (or whatever the latest buzzword is). If the government can start fining me for not working out, I am first going to go broke very quickly, but more importantly, there will be no way to draw any lines as to what else they can control in my life. This strikes me as way too much control being put into the hands of a powerful few. If I can be fined for not going to the government-approved doctor, will I be fined for not eating at government-approved restaurants, not shopping at government-approved merchants, not worshipping at government-approved churches, all in the name of “but it’s better for everyone in the long run”?
By the way, one of the major benefits being pushed at the meeting was that if all of the county employees would go to the clinic, then over a five year period, insurance costs/claims/lost work time could lead to a savings of over $1.6 million! Now, anyone who knows me or who has followed my political career knows that I am all for saving the county’s money (because it is the taxpayers’ money, NOT the government’s – ahem, Washington). However, I don’t care if it is a savings of $1 or $100 trillion, no price is worth handing over control of my life to any government.
A second concern relates to the example recommendation provided at the meeting. It was stated that the clinic might tell someone they need to walk/run 30 minutes/day, 4 days/week. Well, what if that advice turns into 1 hour/day, 7 days/week? Further, what if this is an employee who is already working two jobs to make ends meet and does not have that much time in their schedule? What if someone is a single parent who is working while also trying to take care of the kids and take them to activities but then has no place to run/work-out? What if they live somewhere where outdoor exercise is not feasible because it is unsafe? Are we seriously going to start handing out government fines over this? Are we going to require county employees to purchase home exercise equipment or gym memberships, perhaps from the government-approved fitness facility? I pray not.
There are some who would say that the county gets the right to mandate such practices because it pays a significant percentage of the employees’ insurance costs. In fact, this exact point was raised at the meeting. Although I disagree strongly, I can understand the logic of the opinion. The argument would go that, if people don’t want the government (in this case, their employer) telling them what to do, then pay for it themselves.
With that, I pose this question to the reader… is this an example of overreaching by the government (as employer) or an acceptable expectation by the entity picking up most of the tab?