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      Columbia opens new employee health center

      The center will be operated by Doctors Care.

      COLUMBIA (WACH) - Starting Tuesday, City of Columbia employees have a new option for health care.

      The city opened the doors to a new health center that will allow anyone who works for the city has the option of using the center without having a co-pay.

      The center is a collaboration between the City of Columbia and BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina, and it will have an on-site physician as well as wellness counselors. It will be operated by Doctors Care.

      ??We are very excited to partner with BlueCross BlueShield in this groundbreaking endeavor that will not only lower health care costs for our hardworking city employees, but also reduce the burden on our city taxpayers,?? said Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin. ??This is an important win for everyone and a dramatic step forward in our mission to build a healthier happier city of the 21st century.??

      Mary Pat Baldauf, a city employee, is impressed with the new center.

      "The investment is incredible. If I had a heart attack or a stroke, any of those diseases that obesity brings about, it would cost me a lot more than a 12-week program. I think the city is very wise to know that," said Baldauf.

      Officials say the goal is to combat chronic condisitons like obesity, high cholesterol and diabetes, which contributes to roughly 70 percent of health care costs.

      "We had to have an increase in our health insurance costs for our employees for this fiscal year. If this does what I hope it's going to do, we won't have to have an increase next year or the year after, or the year after because they can actually help themselves by saving money here," said Columbia city manager Steve Gantt.

      Gantt has already lost 45 pounds thanks to a 12-week wellness program created through the health center.

      "We'll have a healthier work force. We should have less sick days from our employees so we'll be more productive and it's close to a lot of our public work facilities, so we think it's a win, win, win," said Gantt.