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Mike DeWine announces wellness program for state employees, Medicaid recipients as part of campaign for Ohio governor

August 7, 2018

Mike DeWine announces wellness program for state employees, Medicaid recipients as part of campaign for Ohio governor

CLEVELAND, Ohio — If elected governor, Mike DeWine said Tuesday he will start a wellness program aimed at trying to drive down the state government’s long-term health-care costs.

DeWine, the Republican state attorney general, said he would start off by rolling out the voluntary wellness program, modeled after a similar plan used by the Cleveland Clinic, for state employees and retirees. But eventually, he said he’d like it to apply it to the roughly 700,000 poor, working Ohioans covered under Medicaid expansion.

The program would aim to save money by improving health outcomes, and reducing the amount of medical care participants require, he said.

“Our goal is to get Ohio get healthy, to prevent chronic disease from developing and help Ohioans take control of their health by meeting goals and benchmarks,” DeWine said.

The wellness program would involve state employees getting periodically tested on major health indicators such as body-mass index, cholesterol levels and blood pressure. Employees who make enough improvement in those indicators, by complying with health advice by and receiving treatment from doctors, would be rewarded with some sort of incentive, such as reduced healthcare premiums.

The Cleveland Clinic had success with a similar program for its employees, saving more than $80 million annually in the past three years on claims and employee premium costs, the DeWine campaign said. The clinic also has seen a reduction in unscheduled employee sick leave, and for many employees, an improvement in those who meet all the program’s major health benchmarks.

DeWine could not say what sort of incentive would be provided to Ohio Medicaid patients, who do not pay premiums or co-pays, for complying with the program. Some state Medicaid programs or managed-care organizations that administer those programs have offered patients things like gift cards in exchange for meeting wellness goals, such as losing weight.

“This is where we’re going to go. As far as the details, we’re going to get those worked out,” DeWine said.

Any changes to Ohio’s Medicaid program would have to be approved by the federal government. Medicaid provides health-care coverage to low-income and disabled people, insuring roughly one-quarter of Ohio’s population. The program also pays for roughly one-half of Ohio’s medication-assisted treatment for opioid addiction. It’s also one of Ohio’s most costly programs, with $55.5 billion, split between the state and federal government, budgeted over the next two years.

John Corlett, a former state Medicaid director under Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland, said in an interview that pursuing a wellness program for state employees is admirable, but that the “jury’s still out” on whether they improve employee health. Some recent research has raised questions about whether because wellness programs are voluntary, they may inflate the results by attracting participants who tend to be healthier anyway, he said.

As for Medicaid patients, Corlett pointed to a recent study from Duke University and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation which similarly found mixed health results for Medicaid patients who enrolled in wellness programs in states like Wisconsin and Indiana.

“There hasn’t been any silver bullet at this point with these types of programs,” said Corlett, who now heads the Center for Community Solutions, a nonpartisan health-policy think tank in Cleveland.

In a statement responding to DeWine’s plan, Cordray campaign spokesman Mike Gwin said: “Working Ohioans want lower drug prices and reduced premiums, but instead Mike DeWine is offering them discount gym memberships. After 42 years as a politician working on behalf of the big drug companies and middlemen that are driving up costs for Ohioans, Mike DeWine cannot be trusted as governor to keep health care affordable for middle-class families.”

DeWine previously has announced he’d also like to impose work requirements on recipients of health-care coverage under Medicaid expansion, a component of the 2010 federal healthcare law also known as Obamacare. Last month, Cordray announced his own health-care plan that included preserving Medicaid expansion, refocusing Medicaid resources on preventative care and expanding anti-smoking programs, among other things.

DeWine’s Tuesday news conference was held in a conference room at the Cleveland Intercontinental Hotel, near the Cleveland Clinic’s main campus. He was joined by his running mate, Secretary of State Jon Husted.

Also present were officials with the Cleveland Clinic, including the clinic’s chief lobbyist, Kristen Morris. Stephanie McCutecheon, the CEO of a company that helped the Clinic design its wellness program and replicate it elsewhere, also participated. Albert Ratner, a longtime Cleveland civic leader and one of Ohio’s top political donors, also came to lend his support to the plan.

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