Obese workers to pay more in new state health plan

Published 12:41 pm Friday, October 29, 2010

State government employees in North Carolina who are considered morbidly obese will have to pay a larger share of medical costs under a new state health plan to take effect in July.&bsp; Employees with a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 40 or more, considered morbidly obese, will have to pay 30 percent of their medical costs, while other, nonsmoking employees will pay only 20 percent. The BMI measures the amount of body fat using a persons height and weight.

State officials say morbidly obese workers should pay a higher percentage because they represent a higher share of the medical costs in the state health plan. The state estimates that about 32 percent of the 661,000 employees under the health plan are medically obese, and about 25,000 are considered morbidly obese, which is roughly 100 pounds overweight.

Anne Rogers, director of integrated health management for the state health plan, says more than 100,000 obese state workers cost the state about $1,000 each annually in excess medical expenses.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

As part of a Comprehensive Wellness Initiative, the state already requires smokers to seek assistance for quitting or pay 30 percent of their medical costs. The initiative was implemented in response to the states rapidly rising medical expenditures, which have jumped by more than $400 million since 2007, according to the state. Rogers attributes the spike to medical cost inflation, a growing number of employees and rising rates of obesity.

State officials also cite a recent study published in the “Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine,” which found that obese workers cost employers in the U.S. an estimated $73 billion a year in medical expenses and reduced productivity.


The 16th annual North Carolina Health Report Card, which grades the well-being of children, gives the state low marks for obesity and substance abuse. The report card, issued this month, gives the state an F in the category of obesity, noting that about 20 percent of North Carolina children ages 12 to 18 are obese. The state gets a D for alcohol, tobacco and drug use among children, although the report found some improvement in the category for the first time.

The state received higher marks in this years report for the child fatality and infant mortality rates, both of which reached historic lows last year. The report, gives the state an A for screening many toddlers for elevated levels of lead in their blood and having a lower percentage of children with asthma. The state received a B for having a high immunization rate and increasing the number of children in public health insurance, although the report notes that 11.5 percent of children in the state dont have any health insurance.

Authors of the report by the North Carolina Institute of Medicine and Action for Children North Carolina caution that recent improvements in health and safety factors for children may be at risk due to state funding cutbacks in 2009 and 2010.


Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina announced it will spend $3 million over three years to combat obesity among children in the state. The funds will focus on children ages five and under by helping with nutrition and exercise programs at the states 5,000 licensed day care centers. Some funds also will be used to provide training and resources for teachers to promote healthy behaviors. Blue Cross says it is working to trim medical costs associated with childhood obesity. North Carolina has the fifth-highest rate of childhood obesity in the country.


The North Carolina Insurance Department has announced that workers compensation insurance rates will rise by an average of 0.6 percent in April. The increase approved by the state follows two years of declining rates. The N.C. Rate Bureau, which represents 150 insurers with workers compensation policies, requested a 1.2 percent increase, but only got half after negotiations with state regulators. N.C. Insurance Commissioner Wayne Goodwin says a slight increase was warranted this year due to rising medical costs.


A trucking company involved in a large wreck that killed five people Sunday near Fletcher had been cited for a dozen violations this year, according to Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration records. N.C. Highway Patrol troopers charged Roumen Todorov Velkov of the Globe Carrier trucking company with four counts of involuntary manslaughter for failing to stop after he slammed into a line of vehicles on I-26. Globe Carrier, based in Illinois, was cited previously this year for speeding, improper lighting, brakes and maintenance violations. The records show the company has only one truck and two drivers.


A federal judge has ruled that Amazon.com Inc. does not have to turn over lists identifying North Carolina residents who bought items from the retailer. U.S District Judge Marsha Pechman ruled that the First Amendment protects individuals from the government demanding to know what books, music and movies they have purchased.

The North Carolina Revenue Department requested the lists in order to collect sales tax on the items sold. However, Amazon contended disclosure of the names would deter people from purchasing controversial books and movies. The revenue department has said it is not interested in what people are reading or watching, only that they pay sales tax on the items.

Out-of-state retailers cannot be forced to collect North Carolinas tax if they have no physical presence in the state. However, North Carolina legislators approved last year a law requiring Amazon to collect sales tax because it has a network of local affiliates. The state noted that N.C. residents link to products on their blogs, promote web shopping deals and offer coupons for the company.

Amazon says it cut ties to those North Carolina affiliates. The company also stopped working with affiliates in Rhode Island and Colorado after facing tax collection efforts there too.


The North Carolina Democratic Party is boycotting stores owned by Raleigh businessman Art Pope to protest what the party says is a corporate takeover of elections.&bsp; Andrew Whalen, executive director of the N.C. Democrats, says Popes company, Variety Wholesalers Inc., has helped financed three independent committees to influence 20 legislative races in 48 counties. The party plans to send the boycott information to Democrats, urging them to boycott the Roses, Maxway, Super Dollar, Value Mart and Super 10 stores owned by Pope in North Carolina.

Pope said he will not be intimidated or quieted by the Democratic Party. Pope says he does not think the boycott will work, and he adds that Republicans will prevail in the election because they have better qualified candidates and are right on the issues.

Election figures show the states Democratic Party has outraised the states Republican Party this year by about $1.3 million, but the gap is much less than in previous elections. The Republican Party has raised twice as much this year in North Carolina as it did in the same period in 2008, and three times as much as in 2006. Meanwhile, the Democratic Party is nearly $2 million shy of what it raised in 2008 and $1 million below its 2006 total.


The largest solar array in North Carolina is coming to North Raleigh soon. The 1.3 megawatt array on about 10 acres at Raleighs Neuse River Water Treatment Plant will be the first of its kind on local government property. The solar farm is expected to start working in 2011 and generate about 1.7 million kilowatt-hours of electricity annually. NxGen Power will own and operate the farm and sell energy to Progress Energy Carolinas. The city is not spending any money on the project, but said the project on city land confirms its commitment to sustainable energy. The solar farm is expected to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by more than 1,300 tons annually, the equivalent of about 140,000 gallons of gasoline. The city also has approved the expansion of a solar roof project. The solar panels on a city water treatment plant will help the facility qualify for the highest sustainability grade for large buildings.


The City of Asheville approved new zoning rules benefiting developers of affordable or environmentally friendly housing projects. The new ruled, approved by a 4-3 city council vote, allows developers of such projects to build more housing units than otherwise would be allowed along Ashevilles major commercial road corridors.&bsp; The new rules also waive the public hearing requirement for projects of 70 units or less that meet standards for affordability or sustainability. The city had required any project with 50 units or more to be approved by city council. Supporters of the new rules said they will help bring more affordable and environmentally friendly housing projects to the city. Opponents said the change, particularly regarding public hearings and city council approval, will give residents less say about whats happening in their neighborhoods.


Clara Johnson, 100, has been honored with the Order of the Palmetto, the highest honor given to South Carolinians. Johnson has 19 children, including 11 who are still living, 30 grandchildren, 37 great-grandchildren and seven great-great grandchildren.

She has been an active volunteer and supported many organizations in the state throughout her life, while also working for the S.C. Commission for the Blind. She has been an advocate for the blind because five of her children had a genetic eye condition that leads to incurable blindness. &bsp;

Johnson was born on a farm in Reidville in 1910. Her parents were descendants of slaves and worked as sharecroppers, struggling to make a living off the land. Johnson and her husband, Roosevelt, were able to buy 62 acres in the Lyman area and Johnson still lives in the family home at the end of a road bearing her husbands name, Roosevelt Johnson Farm Road.

She had her first child when she was 18 and the last when she was 48, but along the way found time to help others. She served on boards to help the blind and worked with a group of homemakers teaching how to can food and make quilts. She received Mother of the Year recognition from the S.C. State College Mothers Committee and the Senior Citizens Award for volunteer work in Wellford and Lyman. In 1979, the Johnsons were recognized as the Family of the Year in the Appalachian region.

Johnson credits her longevity to godly living, She says she always trusted in the Lord, never smoked, drank, chewed tobacco or snuff, and had only one man.