Partnering for 76 Years: City of Alpena Provides Blues’ Coverage Employees Can Count On

With roots as a logging town, the city of Alpena has grown and changed in many ways since its incorporation in 1871.

Harvesting trees eventually ceded to cement and heavy machinery industries, while today, MidMichigan Medical Center is the region’s largest employer. Tourists are drawn to the town in summer months for its sunrise views of Lake Huron and lighthouses, a shipwreck museum and the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary (the photo accompanying this post depcits the entrance to the city’s harbor off Thunder Bay and Lake Huron).

The area has ample spots for outdoor recreation and hunting and fishing are popular pastimes. Snow in winter months sometimes allows for skating, skiing and snowshoeing, while local lakes provide plenty of opportunities for summer revelry.

“We are outdoorsy people,” said the city’s Human Resources Administrator Kathy Himes.

With more than 10,000 residents, it’s a cultural and commercial destination for surrounding communities in the Northeast Lower Peninsula of Michigan, but Himes says it hasn’t lost its small-town charm.

“It’s a place to go and just rest and enjoy your family,” she said.

Mayor Matt Waligora and Human Resources Administrator Kathy Himes accepting the 2017 Health Leadership award from Mid-Michigan Medical Center for the city’s commitment to wellness.

The city also happens to be one of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan’s longest continuous customers. City employees have been covered by the Blues since June 6, 1940. Blue Cross was founded in 1939.

Just as Alpena has evolved, so has the insurance industry and health care in general. Himes has been working with Blue Cross Senior Account Manager Arielle Jasmin to make sure the 80 people employed by the city have plans that fit their unique personal circumstances, while offering comprehensive coverage.

The city recently opened up a wider variety of health plans to employees, with several PPO options to choose from. One includes a Health Savings Account, which the city contributes to. Himes said employees have enthusiastically embraced the changes.

A range of options are in place whether you’re young and single, married with kids or an empty-nester, there’s a health plan available that will work for you, Himes explained.

“They’re all taken care of in different ways, but they have choices to make sure that they’re doing the right thing for themselves,” she said.

Wellness is a top priority for Himes and city leadership. With help from Blue Cross, the city has implemented a step program using Fitbit technology and also utilizes existing Blue Cross wellness programs they can plug into their overall efforts.

“We’re taking the engagement to a whole new level,” Jasmin said.

For Police Lieutenant Eric Hamp, insuring his wife and two children meant looking at the family’s overall needs. They’re generally healthy and don’t utilize a lot of health care, so the HSA option has offered the best of both worlds – lower monthly costs with an account to cover routine expenses.

“For my family, we have to look at the big picture,” Hamp said. “All my dealings with Blue Cross have been very pleasant. As far as seeking services, it’s been great.”

The 14-year veteran has counseled younger members of the police force to weigh their options using comparison tools on the Blue Cross website.

“Especially for a young employee coming in, it can be very overwhelming,” he said.

He’s also a strong proponent of downloading the Blue Cross app that can help them track claims and expenses at their fingertips.

“That service is very nice to just quickly take a minute to go on my phone and make sure the records match without having to call customer service,” he said. “It’s quicker to go this route.”

While the idea of an app would have been incomprehensible in 1939, it’s the sort of innovation that long-time customers have come to rely on, along with reliable and personal service. Jasmin is from Alpena and said many of her customers in the city care deeply about their employees because of the connections that are forged in a small town.

“People almost become extended family when you’re from a small town,” is the way Hamp explains it.

Himes said Jasmin, and the hometown service she provides, is one reason she values offering Blue Cross insurance to employees.

“Arielle is the hardest worker. She will make it right every single time,” Himes said. “I know that if I call her, she’s going to work on it until it’s right.”

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Photos courtesy of Alpena Convention and Visitor’s Bureau and Mid-Michigan Medical Center.

 

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