By Mac Cerullo
---- — AMESBURY — In recognition of Amesbury’s efforts to improve municipal employee health care while lowering costs, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts has awarded Amesbury with its annual Municipal Blue Innovation Award.
The award recognizes cities and towns for successfully implementing health care plan changes and wellness initiatives to make care more affordable, and the city will receive a $5,000 wellness grant as well.
Amesbury was among the six winners, which also included Newburyport, Fall River, Ware and two health groups.
Over two dozen city officials gathered in the City Hall auditorium Friday morning to receive the award and check from BCBS, and Mayor Thatcher Kezer thanked all the employees for helping bring the city’s health care costs down.
“This was your effort, the employee’s effort, that made this happen and it made a difference,” Kezer said. “I know we all take our hits being in the public domain, but you folks are actually doing the hard work and doing the hard things to manage our costs and make things better.”
This is the second time Amesbury has won the award — it previously won in 2011 — and Larry Croes, vice president of sales for BCBS of Mass., said it’s very unusual for a single community to be honored more than once and the city should be proud.
“Amesbury in particular has had a long history of strong wellness programs over multiple years, and it’s unusual that [a city] shows that much leadership,” Croes said. “Folks look and think that you guys are very innovative in this town.”
One of the primary factors in Amesbury’s winning the award was the successful implementation of its Well Power program, which is a three-year initiative designed to help employees lead healthier lifestyles while providing them access to special resources at no cost to the city.
Another factor was the city’s use of the Blue Care Line, which allows 24-hour access to a nurse care line that members can call if they have questions, potentially saving them a trip to the emergency room. According to the city, the Blue Care line helped reduce unnecessary ER admissions by 23 percent and spending by 38 percent due to employees seeking the right care in the right setting on the first try.
Croes also praised the city for encouraging employees to receive care at low-cost, high quality facilities without being star-struck by brands.
“We recognize communities that adopt innovative plan designs, so folks that are encouraging people to use low-cost, high-quality facilities, not necessarily always going for the brand,” Croes said. “Because brand doesn’t mean quality and high-cost doesn’t mean quality.”
Overall, this is the third health-related award Amesbury has won this year. In February the city won two award from the Massachusetts Interlocal Insurance Association, one for employee wellness and another for loss prevention. The success of the Well Power program was a major factor in those awards as well.