Tax dollars on Wellness Save Taxpayers Money

It’s seldom that I have time in my schedule to attend Irvine City Council meetings, but a small debate two weeks ago over a proposal by Mayor Pro Tem Beth Krom to look into a citywide wellness program turned into a small facebook debate with Irvine Councilmember Jeff Lalloway; in short, I’ve always been of the mind that taxpayer dollars spent on programs to promote wellness, good nutrition and wellness for seniors save taxpayer dollars by keeping seniors in their homes longer (instead of nursing facilities), and reduce trips to emergency rooms by helping people schedule regular doctors visits.

Lalloway disagreed and challenged me to prove it (links I submitted to Facebook kept disappearing).  Debates with Lalloway can quick descend into “when did you stop beating your wife” questions in regards to policy he advocates. So because I was unsuccessful getting links to stick on Facebook, I decided to present my findings at the Irvine City Council meeting.  I made one mistake of having too much to present in three minutes and my silenced cell phone keep ringing in my shirt pocket which caused a distraction, but I think I made my points.

Here’s what I said:

While this is the public comment portion of the meeting, my comments tonight are directly exclusively to Councilman Jeff Lalloway.  The councilman and I had a spirited debate on Facebook last week where he challenged me to present evidence that spending tax dollars to promote healthy living and wellness will reduce the healthcare burden. 

Mr. Lalloway, you’re a lawyer and you should know better never to ask a question you don’t already know the answer to.  I present you a few highlights:

  • In Farmington, Maine, select groups of state employees participated in the ME FIRST program that gives these workers access to fitness and healthcare services that target obesity. Senator Roger Katz, a Republican, notes to “programs that encourage preventative care and healthy lifestyles save taxpayers money.
  • Kentucky is one of six states without a taxpayer supported smoking cessation program, but new proposals that would combine state and federal funding of $5 million that experts believe would reduce the Commonwealth’s Medicaid costs by tens of millions of dollars per year.
  • The State of Nevada has a Prevention Plan for its 44,000 public employees to help them take steps towards a healthier lifestyle and the Plan is projected to save Nevada taxpayers several million dollars over the next four years.
  • The Texas Coalition for Worksite Wellness issued a study entitled “An Ounce of Prevention” that shows support for prevention, wellness and smoking cessation programs will benefit the Texas economy to the tune of $338.5 million in revenues and nearly 2,500 permanent jobs to their economy. 
  • New Hanover County in North Carolina, a county with a $14 million dollar budget deficit, listed a $15,000 dollar preventative wellness program as one of three “untouchable” items on the county’s budget because it saves the county, quote “hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.”
  • Quest Diagnostics, a company with operations all over the world, has proven that for every dollar they invest in wellness, there’s a savings of nearly $5 dollars.

Since so many wish government ran more like a business, private businesses have long understood the value of corporate wellness programs as a means of cutting insurance costs and increasing employee productivity by reducing absenteeism and time lost due to illness, and reduced amounts of worker’s compensation claims.  But not everyone has access to a corporate wellness program.

But we can look in our own city for success in a citywide wellness program.  I point out to Mayor Kang’s leadership in promoting Irvine’s successful iChip Program that has helped identify 750 families eligible for free or minimal cost healthcare for children in this city; many residents who get this benefit were simply unaware of the program and without the city’s leadership in promoting it at minimal cost to taxpayers, they would not have benefitted from these services.

So Councilman Lalloway, you contend that city resources for wellness programs are irresponsible spending.  I offer you proof that tax dollars invested in wellness save taxpayers money. 

I believe that public health is as important as public safety.

Just because you believe spending public funds on wellness doesn’t save taxpayers money, Councilman, doesn’t make it true.

  2 comments for “Tax dollars on Wellness Save Taxpayers Money

  1. friend of the blog
    July 27, 2011 at 2:19 pm

    There was a good piece on Frontline last night on a very similar subject. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/doctor-hotspot/

  2. Tony Bedolla
    July 28, 2011 at 10:48 am

    I can only speak for my organization.

    The OCFA adopted a Wellness Fitness (WeFit) program about 10 years ago. In that time the workers compensation expenses (the OCFA was self insured) have dropped by almost 60%.

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