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Porter County Administration Center

The Porter County Administration Center in downtown Valparaiso is shown during an autumn sunset.

VALPARAISO — Porter County officials hope the free health care employees will be eligible to receive will drive down health insurance costs.

The county signed a two-year contract with Franciscan Alliance for $62 per employee this week. That buys insured employees and their covered dependents free access to primary care at Franciscan clinics in Valparaiso and Portage.

The patients will receive free routine medical care and free prescriptions from a list of 150 commonly prescribed medications.

That’s a big incentive for employees and their families to use the clinic.

Tony Bontrager, of RL Sutton, the county's health insurance adviser, said he anticipate the clinic will be available beginning Jan. 2.

"We have to become a healthier group," said Board of Commissioners President Jeff Good, R-Center.

If 60 percent of insured employees use the clinic, the county breaks even on the cost of the Franciscan contract, Commissioner Laura Blaney, D-South, said.

"I can't overemphasize how important it is to the employees to participate," Commissioner Jim Biggs, R-North, said. "We're doing our part. They need to do their part."

It's free to employees, but it's also quality care, Blaney said.

The contract with Franciscan offers incentive for the company to get county employees to seek care there.

The goal is to have 60 percent of employees participate in the first six month, so the county will pay 60 percent of that $62 per employee for those first six months. In the second half of the year, the county will pay 80 percent of the cost with the expectation that 80 percent will participate. If that goal isn't reached, Franciscan and the county will split the difference and refund the money to the county.

"If we don’t get people to go to these, we're going to have to redo insurance again," Councilman Dan Whitten, D-At-Large, said. "The prescriptions should be a big incentive."

The new Portage building to be built on Willowcreek Road, to be shared between Portage Township and the county, will include a community room where employees can meet for wellness education and other training, Good said.

"We're trying to think of all the different things that can enhance the county" while doing a string of building projects, he said.

The county's insurer for worker’s compensation, GIS, is facilitating outreach on issues like shoes with special soles for jailers and highway workers to reduce slips and falls. That protects workers while keeping insurance costs down.

"It's really minute stuff, but it's really improving safety in the long run," Good said.

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Porter County Government Reporter

Senior reporter Doug Ross, an award-winning writer, has been covering Northwest Indiana for more than 35 years, including more than a quarter of a century at The Times.