Viewpoint | Lt. Gov. Abramson: Healthier business environment

By Lt. Gov. Jerry Abramson

Like many businesses across the state and nation, Kentucky state government has expanded its health insurance coverage to encourage members to lead healthier lifestyles through wellness programs.

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The biggest factor affecting the long-term success of our businesses, and our ability as a state to recruit businesses and jobs is the quality of our workforce, both educated and skilled as well as health wise.

For instance, I recently completed my HumanaVitality health assessment, a requirement for my LivingWell health insurance through the Kentucky Employees’ Health Plan or KEHP. KEHP offers four health insurance plans to public employees and retirees, two of which are LivingWell plans that emphasize health and wellness.

The math is simple: A stronger, healthier state government workforce means greater productivity toward our pledge of serving the people of Kentucky.

The two LivingWell plans provide lower (i.e. better) coinsurance, deductibles and out-of-pocket maximums to members.

But more importantly, virtually all of the 127,655 planholders who chose a LivingWell plan completed an online health assessment, like I did. This helps them become more aware of their current well-being and understand their health risks, as well as their personal accountability to their health. And they get a personalized plan of action so they can get or stay healthy.

This means quality health information and awareness for 81 percent of our total membership that includes employees of state agencies, school boards and local government, as well as retirees under age 65 and their dependents.

Our LivingWell plans go hand in hand with the decision of Gov. Steve Beshear last year to seize the historic opportunity given by the federal government to address Kentucky’s poor health in a transformative way.

Through the Affordable Care Act, to date, more than 413,000 Kentuckians have health insurance thanks to Kentucky’s decision to expand its Medicaid program and launch its health benefit exchange, known as kynect.

The biggest factor affecting the long-term success of our businesses, and our ability as a state to recruit businesses and jobs is the quality of our workforce, both educated and skilled as well as health wise. It’s also important to recognize the direct relationship between a healthier, more productive workforce and our ability to attract and retain good-paying jobs for our people.

Jerry Abramson is Lieutenant Governor of the Commonwealth of Kentucky.
Jerry Abramson is Lieutenant Governor of the Commonwealth of Kentucky.

With more Kentuckians, including the working poor, covered by quality, comprehensive health insurance, which include wellness programs and preventive treatments, we will see an increase in worker productivity, and our workforce will be more appealing to prospective businesses.

At the same time, better coverage will ultimately lower healthcare costs and improve our quality of life.

To build on our recent success in changing Kentucky’s health dynamic, we are now looking to go beyond health insurance, with kyhealthnow, or, as one national reporter called our new effort – “kynect 2.0.”

Kyhealthnow establishes seven high-level health goals for our state to achieve over the next five years.

The governor asked me to chair its oversight team, which consists of cabinet secretaries and key state agency officials. Kentucky Public Health Commissioner Dr. Stephanie Mayfield is vice chair.

The first part of the kyhealthnow effort involves state government getting its own house in order, leading an effort to improve the health of our workforce and that of the people we serve by aligning our programs and policies to promote better health outcomes where we can.

But an equally critical part of the effort is aligning our efforts with the important work being done across the state to improve our health.

That’s why we are challenging local governments, businesses, schools, nonprofits and individuals to take meaningful steps toward improving health in their communities.

At our first meeting in March, the members of the oversight team heard from Dave Adkisson, president and CEO of the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce.

Adkisson said the health and wellness of Kentuckians has become a greater concern to employers during the past decade as health insurance costs have increased and as a growing share of companies’ tax dollars go to pay for healthcare.

In fact, the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce lists the health and wellness of Kentuckians as one of the business community’s top three strategic priorities for the state, according to Adkisson.

Employee health issues should be important to employers, who should strive to incorporate and engage employees in wellness policies and worksite wellness programs.

Our success depends on it. Ensuring a healthier future is vital if Kentucky wants to have a stronger population that can compete for 21st-century jobs.

A goal of kyhealthnow is to partner with the business community to further move the needle on the health of the commonwealth’s workforce. You can find more information about kyhealthnow at its website, along with details about the upcoming June 26 meeting.

Jerry Abramson is Lieutenant Governor of the Commonwealth of Kentucky.

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