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Story published: 04-16-2013 • Print ArticleE-mail Story to a Friend

Issue between insurance company, MSHA has county debating switch

By Karen Sells
Assistant Editor

Washington County has received the requested renewal quote from BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, but commissioners were hesitant to make a recommendation until contract negotiations with Mountain States Health Alliance are settled.

“We can’t buy insurance for county employees from a company that doesn’t have a presence in our local hospital,” Chair Mark Ferguson said during the April 8 meeting of the Cultural, Industrial and Agricultural Committee.

Tom Foster, the county’s insurance broker, came to the meeting prepared to make a recommendation to accept the quote despite the fact BCBST’s contract with MSHA is set to expire May 31.

“I’ve been doing this for 32 years, and I would be very surprised if they weren’t able to work it out,” Foster said.

The quote reflects a 4 percent annual increase for the county. If the 2 percent credit for a wellness program is received, the county would pay $93,000 more with no change in benefits.

“I think it’s an excellent renewal,” Foster said.

Ferguson agreed, but again voiced his concern. “The big hurdle is they don’t have a contract with Mountain States,” he said, making a motion to recommend the renewal contingent on BCBST finalizing the contract by April 30. “If not, we’re going to have to put it out for bid.”

Commissioner Sam Phillips seconded the motion and it passed unanimously.

Foster said all insurance companies are in the same boat, facing expiration dates with MSHA in the coming months.

“I hate we’re in this (situation), but it would have been the same case if I had shopped it,” he said. “We don’t know what 2014 will look like — it could be a train wreck with the county facing a large increase, and we may have to look at benefits.”

Marvin Eichorn, chief financial officer for MSHA, told committee members negotiations have been under way since February.

“BlueCross BlueShield has asked for some pretty substantial reductions in our rates, which we would have had a problem with anyway,” he said. “Given that we are facing immediate cuts of $25 million from Medicaid and the 2 percent sequestration, we’re in no position for further cuts.”

According to Eichorn, negotiations are still very active and a meeting in Knoxville was scheduled for the end of last week.

“My read is both parties are still working, and the next couple of meetings will be the lynchpin to see if something can be worked out,” he said.

Ferguson said he wouldn’t think an insurance company would send out an official notice regarding the expiration date of coverage if they thought negotiations would be successful.

“You may be right,” Eichorn said.

Ferguson asked him to keep the county updated through Benefits Coordinator Michelle Shelton-Stewart, adding the committee may have to schedule a called meeting.

“Mountain States owns the hospitals, they own the doctors, and if you won’t take our insurance, we don’t have anybody,” he said.