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Insurance costs for county remain in limbo

Members of the Washington County Commercial, Industrial and Agricultural Committee voted on an insurance plan during a called meeting April 18, but a recommendation on increasing the portion county employees pay into the plan has yet to be decided.
Tom Foster, the county’s insurance broker, said the only two ways to cut costs are to request more from the employees or the employer.
“There’s no magic about it,” he said.
With no increase in the employee contribution during the last 15 years, Foster said the county needs to change direction.
“But you can’t come back now and collect it all at once in an unfair way that would put a burden on the employees,” he said.
Mayor Dan Eldridge said he also was not in favor of what Foster referred to as “draconian” changes, but added that the budget situation is a reality that must be dealt with now.
In trying to address a $4.25 million deficit, Eldridge had hoped to find savings of $1.2 million from changes in the healthcare plan.
A comparison of programs with similar benefits indicated the potential for very large savings, he noted, and he would have liked to see the insurance plan bid out.
“$600,000 isn’t chump change,” Foster said, referring to the savings estimated in one of the three options he negotiated with Humana, the current carrier.
Foster said he could have bid the insurance and possibly received a lower price, but the new provider would just come back the next year with a big increase.
“Humana would have to be 15 to 20 percent out of line for me to do that,” he said.
The closing window for the budget deadline means the county will never know, or at least not this year.
In a later interview with the Herald & Tribune, Eldridge said the decision to not bid the insurance was “contrary to what I thought we were trying to accomplish by designating a broker for the county.”
Commissioner Ken Lyon said the problem with the health insurance plan today is that the county has not kept up through the years.
“A $250 deductible is as obsolete as it gets,” he said. “A $750 deductible is still fat, but we are trying to make some moves and we’re being fair.”
Lyon made a motion to recommend the option that offered $586,00 in savings. Changes would include a deductible raise from $250 to $750, a $20 co-pay for office visits, a $150 co-pay for emergency room visits, a drug card, and bundled dental and vision insurance.
However, the estimated savings included a 20 percent increase in employee contribution, which would raise an individual’s price from $50 to $60 per month, for example.
“You’d like to stay the same price, but it’s just not possible anymore,” Foster said.
The committee opted to wait until its May meeting to vote on whether to increase the employee contribution.
Commissioner Richard Shadden seconded Lyon’s motion on the insurance plan, which represents a savings of approximately $484,000 with no decision on the employee contribution.
A large number of Washington County employees attended the CIA meeting and spoke on both sides of the issue. Some said the benefits are a good deal for the price and they consider them part of their wages, while others referred to low salaries, lack of overtime pay, and no raises during the last three years as reasons for the health insurance to stay as it is for employees.
Eldridge said it’s worth noting there also have been no layoffs and no reductions in pay for Washington County employees during that same period.
“That is not insignificant at all in this economic climate,” he said.
At Monday morning’s meeting of the full county commission, members voted 19-5 in favor of the CIA’s recommendation to approve the insurance plan option.
Commissioner Greg Matherly was absent from the meeting.
Voting against the motion were: Pete Speropulos, Mitch Meredith, David Tomita, Ethan Flynn and Joe Grandy.