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County employees could see hike in insurance premiums

After 15 years with no increases, it may be time for Washington County employees to raise their contributions to their health insurance plan.
Thomas Foster, the county’s new insurance broker, offered three options to members of the Commercial, Industrial and Agricultural Committee during their April 4 meeting.
“We knew we had to do something about cost, but we wanted to keep quality products,” Foster said. “We think we’ve put together a plan to do both.”
Foster said he met with representatives from Humana, the county’s current carrier, in two multi-hour sessions.
Rather than the 2.73 percent increase Humana included in its renewal proposal, Foster said negotiations brought the potential extra cost back to zero with no change in benefits, a savings of $143,000.
An additional $100,000 could be saved by bundling the dental and vision insurance with the health plan, Foster said.
“I’m not selling the products, I’m proposing how you can save money,” Foster told the CIA Committee, reminding them that the county renewed last year at an increase of $450,000.
The second option increases the deductible from $250 to $500 and bundles dental and vision, which could offer a savings of $494,000. Increasing the deductible to $750 could result in a $586,000 savings on the renewal.
“We did our homework, and there has been no change in employee contribution in the last 15 years,” Foster said. “We need to extract more from the employees or change the benefits.”
Increasing the employee contribution to 20 percent of the cost would provide a savings of more than $100,000, according to Foster.
“There are people taking advantage of Washington County government,” he said. “We have to adjust the contributions because we have to get these in line.”
Current monthly rates for Washington County employees are $50 for one employee, $102 for employee and spouse, and $146 for family coverage.
“We did not want to change the office co-pay or the drug card,” Foster said, adding that small changes now are better than big changes later. He said the first year would be spent educating employees on what’s coming.
“The plan is way too rich, and has been way too rich” said Commissioner Ken Lyon. “A $750 deductible in this day and time is a low deductible, and $1,500 for out-of-pocket expenses is not bad at all.”
Lyon said one idea would be to charge nothing for individual employees and raise the cost of the family plan.
“It’s not to make them feel it; it’s about being fair,” Lyon said. “And the only way to do that is to be prudent now so we will be able to offer a good plan and continue to offer it five years from now.”
Foster said only 21 percent of Washington County employees reach the maximum out-of-pocket expenses annually, which was 210 employees this year.
“The question is, are you going to spend money on insurance to the detriment of employees receiving pay increases,” said County Attorney John Rambo.
Rambo said the low cost of the county policy is considered by employees who have the choice to be added to their spouses’ plans.
“It invites more enrollees on the county plan if we are out-of-sync with other employers,” Rambo said.
Foster said he thought it would be possible to have a surcharge that requires county employees to pay the full cost of the benefits for dependents they include on their coverage.
Commissioner Greg Matherly, who works at the Washington County Sheriff’s Office, said 11 positions are currently open at the jail.
He referred to a good employee who recently resigned.
“I could beat his benefits, but not his pay,” he said.
While benefits are one of the reasons employees have remained with the county, Matherly said the committee also needs to give them the salary to stay.
Foster and Humana representatives recommended a decision be made on the three available renewal options.
The CIA Committee scheduled a called meeting on Monday, April 18, at 4 p.m. to vote on a recommendation to take to the Commission at the end of the month.