State workers

Wash. kicks off free diabetes screening for state workers; 3rd state to offer it

OlympianJanuary 13, 2014 

Medical worker Valerie Stevens takes a diabetes blood test Monday of legislative employee Kevin Pierce, who got good news from the 'quick and painless' test.

BRAD SHANNON — The Olympian

Gov. Jay Inslee touted the financial and health benefits of diabetes screening at the Capitol Monday, kicking off the state’s new free screening program for agency and higher-education employees. Inslee, a fitness enthusiast, didn’t get his blood sampled, saying he’d already had been cleared by physical checkups.

But the Democrat, who campaigned on bringing down healthcare costs, did say diabetes is a costly disease that can be prevented.

"This is a preventable disease. We're going to help state employees prevent this disease. Over 60 percent of people who test positive for pre-diabetes can actually prevent this ravaging disease. I've had it in my family so I know how tough it is,'' Inslee told reporters at a kickoff event inside the Legislative Building just hours before the Legislature convened for a 60-day session. 

The new program is called “NOT ME,” and it is part of state workers’ healthcare benefits for 2014.  As part of it the Health Care Authority is arranging onsite testing at state agencies and higher education institutions over the next year to promote more testing. The agency cites national data showing 35 percent of the population is pre-diabetic or at risk.

Kevin Pierce, deputy director of Legislative Support Services, was among the many who volunteered to give screening a try Monday – the first day of on-site screenings for workers.

Medical technician Valerie Stevens pricked his finger with a needle and did a fast blood sample analysis that concluded – she promised results in about six minutes – that Pierce was in the upper end of the normal range for blood glucose levels, but not yet pre-diabetic.

Pierce called that a “clean bill of health’’ and described the testing as “quick and painless.”

“I’ve never been tested before but about five years ago my older brother was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. So it’s been in the back of my mind to eventually get tested,” Pierce said.

Scott Pritchard, who manages the Washington Wellness programs including the diabetes prevention at the Health Care Authority, said the Public Employees Benefits Board had directed the agency to move ahead with a diabetes program. The governor also issued an executive order late last fall on worker wellness that included a request that HCA immediately start the Diabetes Prevention Program.

PEBB has not calculated how much diabetes care might be costing the state or its workers. And no specific cost is broken out for the screening program, because insurers covering state employees are offering it as part of their 2014 coverage.

But Pritchard said employees who are identified as pre-diabetic can go into a special four-month prevention program to help them make lifestyle changes that eventually can help prevent the onset of diabetes.

Weight loss and daily physical activity are the two most important keys, he said. Keeping off body fat long term is a key challenge.

The formal prevention program runs about four months – with once a week sessions to help a person modify his or lifestyle. Pritchard said about 60 percent of those who are identified early can avoid developing the disease, which the HCA says can lead to heart attacks, strokes, blindness and even amputations.

Pritchard said it costs insurers about $1,000 per person for the prevention program , which is still far less than the $5,000 to $10,000 a year that a person with diabetes can rack up in additional yearly medical bills, Pritchard added.

Washington is now one of three states including Ohio and Colorado that offer free screening to workers, Pritchard said.

State Rep. Laurie Jinkins, D-Tacoma, spoke at the kickoff, saying she recently turned 50 and has lived with the disease since childhood. She also noted that unlike in her childhood, a lot more is known about how people can avoid developing diabetes.

Inslee, who is a bit of a sports fan, is also apparently a realist. He seemed to understand that Northwest residents may well binge on chips and fatty foods during this coming weekend’s NFL championship football game in Seattle.

"Our message today is that after the Seahawks beat the 49ers this weekend and we enjoy our treats while watching the game, people should get their blood pressure checked and talk to (medical) people about a way to prevent diabetes,” Inslee said.

A week-long mobile screening effort continues Tuesday with testing in the Capitol’s Columbia Room and also at the Health Care Authority’s offices at Cherry Street Plaza, 626 Eighth Ave., Olympia. On Thursday the mobile testing facility will stop at the Department of Health headquarters in Tumwater. Free tests are available for those who make an appointment through their agency wellness coordinators.

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