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County approves new insurance

Tuesday’s 2-1 vote by county commissioners to change insurance benefits – in order to save money on increasing premiums – drew fire from employees.

Wednesday, November 21, 2001

Tuesday’s 2-1 vote by county commissioners to change insurance benefits – in order to save money on increasing premiums – drew fire from employees.

"There will be problems with union contracts," said Diane Gettys, president of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees No. 3319.

Contracts covering many county offices say the employer is responsible for the difference in coverage, Gettys said. Employees in a committee representing all offices and unions, who have worked with commissioners on the insurance issue for more than a month, called the situation frustrating, she added.

The committee thought the board of commissioners was listening, but apparently not, Gettys said.

Although the employee committee recommended the lower benefits package – to stave off possible layoffs due to a much higher insurance cost under other plans – they also recommended changing agents, which the commission rejected.

In a Nov. 8 letter to the commission, the committee wrote, " in an effort to minimize the devastating effect of the increased renewal rates, the Insurance Committee recommends the acceptance of the bid from Medical Mutual option No. 5.

"Also given the fact that in two years time we have gone from a group that attracted competitive bids from several insurance companies to a group that only received one bid, the committee further recommends returning Dave Brown from Brown/Raybourn as the agent of record in an effort to correct the problems that have placed Lawrence County in the situation we are facing now."

During its session, the county commission voted to accept sole bidder Medical Mutual’s $200/$400 deductible SuperMed Plus CMM with 80/20 in-network copay and the $5/$10 prescription plan, under the county’s current agent of McNelly Patrick and Associates.

(The current plan has a $100/$200 deductible and 90/10 copay. On average, employees will pay 43.1 percent more than what they’re paying now, although some offices reduce employee shares more than others. The doctor copay and prescription costs stay the same, while people will pay more out of pocket for surgeries, for example. The Medical Mutual bid totaled just over $3.6 million per year.)

Commission president Paul Herrell and commissioner Jason Stephens voted yes. Commissioner George Patterson voted no.

Rates paid by the county increased 43 percent under the new benefits package. Identical coverage would have pushed rates up 65 percent, and likely caused more layoffs, commissioners have said.

"I really hate it, but we’ve got to think about the whole county," Herrell said, adding that the county could not have absorbed the 65 percent increase.

"We’ve already cut and I think we can about handle it now, at least for this year; we’ll see about next year," he said. "Things seem to be picking up a bit. The main thing is the employees have coverage, even if they have to pay a little more."

Patterson, who also has pushed to make Dave Brown the agent of record citing good insurance service in the past, said everything should have been officially negotiated with the unions up front.

Herrell and Stephens said they consider the unions having signed off on the plan, referring to the employee committee’s recommendation.

Rick McNelly of McNelly Patrick, who also attended the meeting, said there was no way to reduce rates without changing the benefit schedule.