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Walgreens’ no-bid city contract

At press conference Eugene Field school L-R are : Mayor Rahm Emanuel Walgreens C.E.O. Greg Wasson. Rahm shows 25 dollar

At a press conference at Eugene Field school, L-R are : Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Walgreens C.E.O. Greg Wasson. Rahm shows the 25 dollar gift card from Walgreens that will be available to parents who look at their child's report card.. | Al Podgorski~Chicago Sun-Times

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Updated: February 11, 2013 7:29AM

Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration awarded a six-month, $700,000 no-bid contract to Walgreens Health Initiatives to screen government employees who joined a wellness program to avoid a $50 increase in monthly health insurance premiums.

The contract was posted on the Procurement Services website on Dec. 28. But officials say it was “signed and executed” in September, weeks before Walgreens CEO Greg Wasson agreed to Emanuel’s request to offer $25 gift cards to encourage parents at 70 Chicago Public Schools to pick up their students’ report cards and participate in parent-teacher conferences.

City Comptroller Amer Ahmad insisted Wednesday that Walgreens’ decision to provide gift cards at schools with historically-low parental involvement was unrelated to the no-bid contract. Walgreens also contributed $500,000-to-$1 million to help defray the cost of hosting last year’s NATO Summit.

“They were chosen because of their reach around the city, available locations and their ability to conduct screenings as we need them to be conducted,” Ahmad said Wednesday.

“Lots of people work right next to a Walgreens or live in a building with a Walgreens attached to it. It really has driven participation.”

The contract calls for Walgreens to conduct “bio-metric screenings” that include height, weight and waist measurements and tests of blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar and body-mass index, in exchange for $50-per-patient.

Roughly 5,000 screenings have been conducted at Walgreens clinics under a contract that expires March 5. Ahmad said $700,000 is a ceiling he does not expect to reach.

The city comptroller said he is empowered to “do direct contracting without competitive bidding” in his role as manager of insurance benefits.

Screenings were offered at city buildings, libraries, firehouses and union halls. More than 47,000 participants at the city, the Chicago Park District, the CTA, CHA and CPS also were given the option of going to their own doctors or getting tested at Walgreens clinics.

“We had spouses involved — not just people who work in and around city buildings. With that in mind, we wanted to make it as easy as possible for people to participate. The more people who participate, the lower costs we’ll have in health care,” he said.

“The success of wellness depends on collecting good data and following up with people the provider deems may need some coaching. A heart attack is far more expensive for taxpayers than wellness screening. If we can prevent one large medical event for an employee, that [screening expense] is well worth it.”

Emanuel and Wasson announced the gift card program on Oct. 30 at Field Elementary School.

“This is a way, in my view, of incentivizing responsible parenting,” Emanuel said on that day.

The mayor said he got the gift card idea during one of his early-morning swims, then approached Wasson, who jumped at the chance to “give back” to the city.

“We have employees who have children who go to Chicago Public Schools all over the city. We want to see them do well as well,” Wasson said then.

At the time, questions were raised about the need to “bribe” parents and about how much the gift card offer would benefit Walgreens’ efforts to expand the reach of a new rewards card used to boost sales and gather marketing information.

When Emanuel took office, Chicago taxpayers were spending $500 million-a-year to provide health care for city employees, nearly 10 percent of the city’s annual budget. Four percent of the city’s work force accounted for 60 percent of the annual expense.

The mayor campaigned on a promise to save $240 million over four years by riding herd over costly but controllable problems like diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and asthma. Obesity also is a contributor. So is heavy smoking.

The threat to raise monthly health insurance premiums by $50 for employees who fail to participate has resulted in what City Hall calls the world’s largest municipal wellness program.

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