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Insurance broker won’t shop health benefits

Despite stalled negotiations between BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee and Mountain States Health Alliance, the county’s insurance broker doesn’t want to request quotes from other companies to provide health benefits for county employees.
During the May 6 meeting of the Cultural, Industrial and Agricultural Committee, Commissioner Alpha Bridger said she recently asked MSHA Chief Financial Officer Marvin Eichorn for an update on the negotiations.
“I told him we needed to know, and he said they’re meeting on May 18,” she said.
Insurance broker Tom Foster expressed his optimism that BCBST, the county’s current provider, and MSHA will reach an agreement, and requested permission to speak “off the record.”
The Herald & Tribune reporter present explained all comments made during a public meeting are considered on the record.
“Well, I’ll have to tell you later,” he told committee members. “I believe very strongly that this will get done, but I don’t want to say anything in an open forum.”
Foster invited committee members to speak with him privately after the meeting about the issue.
Committee Chair Mark Ferguson said he did not like the delay in finding a solution and asked Foster when he could have quotes for employee health insurance from other companies.
“It wouldn’t be fair to waste their time,” Foster said, arguing against seeking other quotes. “I don’t want to shop it because I don’t expect anything better.”
Foster said he spoke with United and Humana, and both are close to completing their contracts with MSHA. They could probably have a bid turned around in a week, he noted.
“I don’t want you to think I’m asleep at the wheel,” Foster said. “I would hope you would have some level of confidence in me.”
Commissioner David Shanks questioned his assessment of the negotiations status between MSHA and BCBST.
“Tom, you’re telling us there’s a courtship going on, but we’ve got a letter that says the engagement is off,” he said.
Shanks was referring to the letter BCBST sent to county employees notifying them of the upcoming July 1 deadline to reach an agreement on rates. After that date, MSHA will leave the network and BCBST will no longer be able to provide the discounted rate for services.
MSHA providers who will leave the network if an agreement is not reached include Johnson City Medical Center, Franklin Woods Community Hospital, Indian Path Medical Center and Sycamore Shoals Hospital, among others.
Foster said Vanderbilt University Medical Center’s affiliation with MSHA, announced two weeks ago, is an indication a successful agreement is close.
“I give you my word, I won’t jeopardize the county,” he said. “If something happens, Michelle and I will be ready.”
Benefits Coordinator Michelle Shelton-Stewart is compiling the employee information necessary to include in a bid letter.
Last month, the CIA Committee recommended the renewal contingent on negotiations between BCBST and MSHA being completed by April 30. The contingency was removed when the committee met again two weeks later.
During the April 22 county commission meeting, Ferguson and Foster urged commissioners to approve the recommendation to ensure the county’s quoted rate would not be affected by big claims that were expected for the month.
Commissioners unanimously approved the quote from BCBST for 2013-14.
Foster has said from the beginning Washington County can change providers at any time.