State employees were paid $2.1 million in incentives to participate in health counseling last year — even though the counseling never was offered.
The payments, part of a stipulated agreement signed in late December by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s administration and employee unions, prompted one legislative leader Tuesday to call for an independent audit of a program to combat certain chronic illnesses.
In the first year of a new wellness program, more than 21,000 state employees, spouses and their dependents were diagnosed with diabetes, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or other serious chronic conditions, according to the agreement by the Office of Labor Relations and the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition.
That wellness program, the Health Enhancement Plan (HEP), was part of a larger concessions deal Malloy struck with unions in August 2011 to help close a major state budget deficit.
That deal increased workers’ health insurance premiums by $100 per month if they failed to participate in the enhancement plan, which mandates regular physicals and other types of screenings.
Workers diagnosed with certain chronic illnesses also must participate in education and counseling programs. For doing so, they receive an annual $100 incentive payment.
According to the Malloy administration, the state’s health insurance carrier failed to provide the program.
“The parties did not become aware of this fact until mid-2012,” Gian-Carl Casa, spokesman for the governor’s budget office, said Tuesday.
Unions argued that those diagnosed with chronic illnesses were denied the chance to earn those incentive payments, and the December agreement ordered $100 checks for all of them.
According to Comptroller Kevin P. Lembo’s office, 21,344 state employee households with chronically ill family members received a $100 check under this settlement, for a total payment of $2.13 million.
“We are literally writing checks for people who did nothing — granted, through no fault of their own,” House Minority Leader Lawrence F. Cafero, R-Norwalk, said Tuesday. “We shouldn’t penalize them, but why are we rewarding them? There’s something wrong with that picture.”
Cafero, who is weighing a 2014 gubernatorial bid and who has been one of the most vocal critics of the concessions deal, became concerned about the wellness program after the strange experience of a House GOP Caucus worker.
The employee, whom Cafero declined to identify, was mistakenly diagnosed one year ago with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, an illness that limits airflow to the lungs.
The employee’s doctor notified the insurance carrier shortly thereafter that the diagnosis was in error, Cafero said, yet this worker still received a $100 incentive check this winter. The employee not only received no counseling, but never had a chronic condition.
“It begs a lot of questions,” he said, adding that the state should hire an independent third party to audit the health program.
The stipulated agreement also called for the state to seek proposals for a new company to administer the counseling program. The state selected an affiliate of ConnectiCare, Case Management Solutions.
“In addition to providing education and counseling services to employees and dependents with chronic conditions, Care Management Solutions will be managing an online interactive portal for all HEP participants — which will be launched soon — and also has a team of HEP nurses and support staff to assist individuals with HEP inquiries,” Lembo said.
Larry Dorman, a spokesman for one of the largest state employee unions, said regardless of the delays in starting the counseling service, workers have given the Health Enhancement Plan rave reviews.
“This is going to save lives and it is going to save significant tax dollars,” said Dorman, who is spokesman for Council 4 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.
“It is already starting to deliver better outcomes,” Dorman said. “I see this as a win-win for everyone.”