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Insurance hikes could spell layoffs

County commissioners are now talking layoffs, in the wake of rising health insurance costs.

Sunday, October 21, 2001

County commissioners are now talking layoffs, in the wake of rising health insurance costs.

"Something will have to give," said commissioner Jason Stephens, who with commission president Paul Herrell attended Friday’s opening of the sole insurance bid, which increased 65 percent.

"We have serious decisions to make," Stephens said.

Those decisions will center on not only choosing a new county insurance proposal but also balancing the inevitable increase in premiums with next year’s budget – which could be smaller than this year’s.

The county’s current insurance company, Medical Mutual, covers 126 single employees and 249 families. Single employee policies cost $264.24, while family policies cost $716.07.

The county and its officeholders pay differing amounts of those premiums, depending upon state reimbursement and union contracts.

The county’s general fund, controlled by the commission, pays for a total of 153 policies – on which employees pay about $40 for single plans and about $107 for families; the county covers the rest.

The county’s insurance agent, McNelly, Patrick and Associates, reported only Medical Mutual bid on the renewal of the county’s current policy. Medical Mutual increased rates to $436.76 for single plans and $1,183.60 for family plans.

That increase would mean roughly a $650,000 increase in insurance expenses just for the commission’s share, Stephens said.

Other agencies, like MR/DD employees, municipal and common pleas courts, court security, auditor, treasurer, recorder, prosecutor, clerk, board of elections, Department of Job and Family Services and other employees are also covered by Medical Mutual’s policy.

Counting those offices and commission employees, the total cost of insurance currently stands at $2.54 million per year. Medical Mutual proposes an increase to $4.2 million per year – or 65.3 percent.

Eight other companies declined to bid on the county’s insurance, citing the amount of claims as a reason, Stephens said.

"It’s what we expected, an increase," he said. "We just didn’t expect it to be this bad."

Combine new insurance rates with other economic factors – the county’s budget has stayed level for three years and could dip the next, the second spending freeze of the year is in effect, and sales tax figures dropped 7 percent last quarter – it makes for a bad situation, the commissioner said.

For several weeks, the commission has discussed the impending insurance bids, saying they could lead to drastic cutbacks.

Last week, the commission entered executive session to discuss layoffs but took no action.

This week’s commission meeting, Thursday at 9 a.m. on the third floor of the courthouse, will take place after a Tuesday insurance committee meeting.

Employees will get a chance then to see the bid, and six optional plans put together by McNelly Patrick.

Employees currently have a $100/$200 deductible SuperMed Plus policy with 90/10 in-network copay and $5/$10 prescription plan.

Options range from keeping the current plan – at the increased cost of $436.76 per single, $1,183.60 per family – to plans that increase deductibles or costs to employees or that change copay amounts. The cheapest option still increases insurance rates 42 percent – $325.30 for single plans and $881.55 for families, medical only.

Commissioners are expected to discuss the bid and options Thursday.