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Commission to consider insurance consultant

In an effort to provide a broader range of services that would benefit both county employees and taxpayers, members of the Employee Compensation and Benefits Committee voted to recommend TIS Insurance Services Inc. as a broker/consultant for Washington County.
Committee members heard presentations from three firms during their December meeting and have since reviewed a strengths-and-weaknesses comparison prepared by Benefits Coordinator Michelle Stewart and Mayor Dan Eldridge.
In a letter to the committee, Eldridge listed the following elements as crucial to enabling Washington County to offer comprehensive employee health-care benefits at an affordable cost:
• A strategy to mitigate Washington County’s exposure to the changing regulatory environment and resulting rising costs;
• An incentive plan that promotes and rewards healthier lifestyles in order to address the age demographic and health habit challenges of our employees;
• Innovative programs designed to contain costs such as an employee clinic, dependent eligibility requirements and disease management;
• Alternatives to a one-size-fits-all benefit and compensation plan to improve the competitiveness of Washington County in attracting and retaining qualified employees;
• A strategy to address the cost impact of “Other Post-Employment Benefits” resulting from the significant number of potential retirees during the next five years.
In order to address these needs, he indicated the consultant would ideally have the expertise to offer compliance and legal support; actuarial services; wellness plan development; consulting and evaluation of medical and pharmacy options; and cost-benefit analysis of plan options, vendors and strategies.
After an extensive review of the submitted material, Eldridge and Stewart thought TIS stood out for its experience with private sector employers, which have been more proactive than public employers in addressing the cost and effectiveness of employee health-care plans; its high level of service and capability; and a list of references who expressed confidence in the level of service that would be provided to Washington County.
During the Jan. 12 meeting, the majority of committee members said they had reached the same conclusion or had TIS as one of their top two choices.
If approved by the full commission, TIS would replace Foster Insurance as the county’s health insurance broker, a move Commissioner Steve Light opposed.
“We need a good plan to keep employees, and I think we’ve been well represented,” Light said. “Tom (Foster) has done a good job. Tell him what you want.”
Commissioner Tom Krieger questioned Light’s suggestion. “I would have felt like the broker should be leading us rather than us having to go to him and tell him we want something at a lower cost,” he said.
He wasn’t the only member who felt that way. “I was a little disappointed (Foster) didn’t come to us with a plan,” Commissioner Rick Storey said.
Commissioner Gary McAllister said that was his expectation also.
Foster Insurance, represented by Tom Foster, was hired in 2011 to serve as the county’s insurance broker, a role informally held by the Commercial, Industrial and Agricultural Committee.
The new county commission established an Employee Compensation and Benefits Committee to focus efforts on options that could serve the employees and contain costs.
When discussions on a possible new broker began during the November meeting, Foster said he had saved the county money and did not want someone looking over his shoulder. “I know what I’m doing, and I’m not here to audition for a job,” he said. “I’ve done this job for four years, and I’m not getting the respect.”
Foster was not present at the December or January meetings.
“The county can’t continue to insure the population of the employees that we have without making changes,” Eldridge said last week. “This has to be a plan to change the demographics and improve the health of the county’s employees.”
A larger selection of plans may also work to the advantage of employees and taxpayers. “I spoke with an employer in Washington County that offered 19 different plans, Eldridge said. “He said the reason is because it saves the company money.”
Krieger made a motion to recommend TIS as a broker/consultant for Washington County, effective Feb. 1. The motion was seconded by Storey and passed with Light opposed.