HANCOCK COUNTY — County employees will soon have access to free health care, which local officials hope will save the county money on insurance claims in the long run.
Beginning Feb. 1, the approximately 225 county employees who receive health care insurance through the county will be able to book free doctor appointments at three local health clinics, all of which are part of the Hancock Physician Network, administered by Hancock Regional Hospital.
The new option provides an alternative to the county’s current high-deductible insurance plan.
Under the new program, basic health screenings and annual checkups, as well as most lab work and generic prescriptions, will be free for employees and their dependents, said Kevin Mandrell, who represents the county’s insurance company, USI Services.
The county also will open a part-time wellness clinic at the Hancock County Annex building, 111 S. American Legion Place. The clinic will be staffed about eight hours a week by a health care consultant who will have access to employee medical records.
That specialist will meet with employees to make sure they’re following up on doctors’ orders and also will be available to help employees establish and maintain healthy lifestyles, Mandrell said.
Members of the Hancock County Board of Commissioners, which recently approved the initiative, said their goal is to ultimately reduce long-term health care costs for the county, though they have not estimated the cost savings. By offering low-cost health care to employees, officials hope to encourage healthier lifestyles, which they say might cut down employee insurance claims.
The new options are funded through the county’s existing budget for insurance claims, so there is no increased cost for employees or taxpayers, said Robin Lowder, Hancock County auditor.
The part-time clinic will cost approximately $30,000 to operate annually; the program through Hancock Physician Network will cost about $94,000. Both measures were approved for one year, and the commissioners agreed to assess whether they’ll renew contracts based on how many employees utilize the services.
Commissioner Brad Armstrong said he hopes having easier access to affordable care will encourage employees to be proactive in monitoring their health. If employees remain engaged in their personal health, it’s less likely they’ll overlook symptoms that could be indicators of future problems, he said.
“This could certainly help us catch the serious stuff, like cancer, earlier on,” he said.
That could spare the county costs for expensive procedures and treatments in the long run for ailments that went untreated, he said.
The program is optional. Employees may continue seeing their current physician, and participation in the on-site wellness clinic isn’t mandatory.
Employees will be able to book appointments for both services through an online portal, Armstrong said.
All of the available Hancock Physician Network clinics are staffed by a mix of physicians and nurse practitioners, said Brian Muckerheide, Chief Financial Officer for Hancock Physician Network.