It is budget season and once again we are looking to tighten our belts and spend less. However, Fairfield would benefit if we looked to tighten our belts because of smaller waistlines.
Among the most glaring drains on our resources is the skyrocketing price of health insurance and medical claims. According to School Superintendent David Title at the Board of Education meeting Jan. 29, most of the new funding needs for education are tied to rising employee health care costs, not expanding academic programs or building repairs or new computer equipment, etc.
This is not surprising. According to the 2012 America's Health Rankings, Americans may be living longer, but we are living sicker due to diet and lifestyle-related chronic diseases. What is surprising is our complacency in the face of this growing crisis. We look to cut essential services and undermine our schools without addressing the cost of health insurance.
Yet we can do something about it. Cities and businesses are beginning to address employee health and worksite wellness as a means to lower costs and absenteeism, and increasing productivity. In the eastern Connecticut town of Mansfield, a Be Well initiative contributed to budget savings over $1.5 million in the first three years, a 10-to-1 return on investment.
Through a combination of policies and programs that increase healthful behaviors (often at low or no cost), we can spend less on health insurance, medical and workers' compensation claims, and lost productivity and more on the services that make our town attractive to residents and businesses. Employee incentive programs, on-site services such as smoking cessation programs or flu shots, health-supportive workplaces, and partnerships with local businesses and organizations are a few of the many options available.
Fairfield should assemble a committee to review best practices, assess municipal worksites and implement new policies and worksite wellness initiatives that would allow us to reduce healthcare costs and free those resources for better use.