COVINGTON, Ga. - A recent review of Newton County P-card spending showed nearly $11,000 in what was described as wellness gifts. Included in the gifts were Kenneth Cole luggage, Fitbits, wireless headphones, Ninja blenders and one edible arrangement.
In an email response to questions about the gifts, county Public Information Officer Bryan Fazio said no taxpayer money was spent.
“Our wellness program was fully funded by grants and our insurance carriers,” he said. “No taxpayer funds were used. Newton County received $40,000 from Cigna in Fiscal Year 2017 and $40,000 from Blue Cross Blue Shield and $3,000 from the Association of County Commissioners of Georgia in FY18 toward our wellness program.
“The Affordable Care Act regulations on wellness programs require employers to offer the opportunity to earn incentives to employees at least once a year.”
Among the incentives awarded were prizes for the county’s "Biggest Loser" weight loss challenge. Fazio said in March and April 2017, the challenge saw 121 individual and 111 team participants. Incentives were also rewarded for the April 2018 Biggest Loser challenge to individuals and teams who lost the most weight.
County employees also took part in a Cardiovascular Awareness Challenge this past February. Fazio said the cost was reimbursed through an ACCG grant. He said that challenge was followed by Wellness Program funded CVT screenings in which 120 people participated.
In response to a question about whose idea it was to award the elaborate prizes, Fazio said the insurance carriers recommend and approved the products that were used to encourage participation in the program.
“Insurance companies use several metrics to determine costs. All are not known due to the insurance carriers’ ability to negotiate and do business, however, demographics, age, claim history and industry medical trends are used,” he said.
“Our Wellness Program, which had 587 participants in FY18, provided a healthier medical trend for Newton County employees.”
Fazio said none of the reimbursed costs for the prizes were billed back to Newton County in higher premiums. He said the Wellness Program allows for better metrics in calculating the county’s insurance premiums.
“This program is a substantial benefit to Newton County because it maximized our workforce, due to less doctor visits and time off requests, therefore, increasing work productivity, which all are effective uses of Newton County recourses,” he said.
As for the purchases being an appropriate use of a county P-card Fazio said, “Our policy for P-card use states that it is for a 'legitimate business purpose;' as these incentives were part of our wellness program which goes toward smart use of taxpayer funds, yes this use of the card to purchase non-taxpayer-funded incentives is a legitimate purpose.
“The reason for use of the P-card, which is simply a form of payment similar to a check, is that many of these items could not be purchased through our vendors or suppliers. A P-card is a tool that allows us to purchase items that are budgeted or grant-funded.”