Health & Medicine

Lexington council votes to set up wellness center for city employees

Lexington's Urban County Council on Tuesday approved an agreement with Marathon Health to set up a wellness center for city employees to provide a range of services aimed at improving their health while lowering the city's health insurance costs.

A location has not been selected, but the center is expected to open by the end of January. An on-site pharmacy is expected to be in operation by March.

Using the center will be voluntary and free for employees, retirees and dependents covered by the city's health insurance plan. Services will include acute and primary care, management of chronic diseases and preventive screenings.

The council voted 14-1 in favor of the health center. Doug Martin cast the dissenting vote. "We absolutely have to have a wellness center, but I believe we should buy local. We have so much health expertise in Lexington," he said after the meeting.

Marathon, based in Vermont, will charge $1.3 million to open, furnish and staff the wellness center. The staff doctor, nurses and other medical personnel will be hired locally.

Lexington will pay the $1.3 million from savings it realizes by having employees use the city-run clinic, which will be less expensive for many tests and procedures than going to a hospital or their own primary care doctor, said Ryan Barrow, city budget director.

Madeline Green, director of risk management and incentives for the city of Chattanooga, told council members about the success of that city's wellness center, which opened in 2006. Before that, health insurance costs were rising about 20 percent a year; health benefits cost the city $16 million in 2006, she said.

Today, the city estimates it is saving $5 million a year compared to what it would be spending if a wellness program were not in place, Green said.

Chattanooga's health insurance covers 6,400 employees, retirees and dependents and cost the city $21 million in 2010, she said. Lexington's health insurance covers about 6,000 people.

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