• 57°

Debate continues on county health insurance

County employee health insurance will switch to Medical Mutual next week – at least for a time, Lawrence County commissioners said.

Saturday, September 30, 2000

County employee health insurance will switch to Medical Mutual next week – at least for a time, Lawrence County commissioners said.

Commissioners voted 2-1 to seek competitive insurance bids – a decision that comes on the heels of last week’s lawsuit that sought an injunction against the county’s switch to Medical Mutual because the commission took action without bids.

The injunction was not granted in court but commission president Bruce Trent moved Thursday to competitively bid health insurance, saying the action was based on the court case and the recommendation of the county prosecutor to resolve the situation.

It will preserve the county’s insurance coverage, Trent said.

Commissioner George Patterson voted against the measure, saying the county had bid the coverage once and when the first quote did not meet county requirements then the county should have chosen one of the other quotes at that time.

Lawrence County’s previous insurance carrier pulled out of Ohio this year, forcing commissioners to seek another. The commission later awarded its $2.2 million health insurance contract to United Health Care, which submitted the lowest among five proposals.

Costs increased under the plan but commissioners said it followed union contract standards. Rick McNelly of McNelly, Patrick and Associates of Jackson represented United Health Care as agent.

Employees balked at the contract because several area physicians and hospitals did not participate, and union officials asked for a return to Medical Mutual.

Commissioners agreed, opting for the more expensive Medical Mutual. The decision did not switch insurance agents, however, which prompted a no vote from Patterson.

The board also made the move after passing a resolution to bypass competitive bidding, quoting a state statute that allows such an action if delays would drive up costs.

Last week’s lawsuit, filed by C. David Brown of Ironton, targets that decision to not seek competitive bids, claiming the requirements of the statute were not met.

Brown, of Brown/Raybourn in Ashland, filed the lawsuit as an individual but had previously carried the county’s insurance and had submitted a bid to provide Medical Mutual coverage.

The lawsuit sought a temporary and permanent injunction of the county’s contract with Medical Mutual.

Lawrence County Common Pleas Court Judge Frank McCown denied that injunction last Friday, assistant county prosecutor Jeff Smith said.

At a status conference Thursday, a Dec. 21 court date was set for the lawsuit, Smith said.

"We feel like we have complied with the law in not selecting competitive bidding because the insurance price would go up if we went with such a process that would take six to nine weeks," Trent said.

The commissioner predicted a rise in insurance costs after bidding. But the county will likely ask its departments and officeholders to bear some of that increase, he said.