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County insurance aired

The Lawrence County Board of Commissioners has sought outside ideas on how to keep the county’s finances in check.

Friday, March 08, 2002

The Lawrence County Board of Commissioners has sought outside ideas on how to keep the county’s finances in check.

Commission President Jason Stephens and commissioner Paul Herrell met with representatives from the County Commission Association of Ohio after Thursday’s regular meeting. The costs the county incurs in health insurance premiums, Stephens told the association representatives, has placed a large financial burden on the county. This, coupled with the decreases in the county’s revenue, has places the county in financial peril.

"Many counties across the state," Brad Cole, a senior policy analyst with the association, told the two commissioners, "are facing financial difficulties."

Cole said the bulk of Ohio’s counties are facing the same problems as Lawrence County – cuts in the sales tax and a decreased amount of investment income. Additionally, counties are facing increases in benefit packages offered to employees.

And benefit packages, Cole said, are one of the primary reasons people seek out jobs in the public sector. Cole said employees who work in the public sector tend to have salaries lower than those in the private arena, but the benefits in the private realm are typically less than the public field.

Other counties, Cole said, have looked at several methods to control costs including cutting services not mandated by law.

As far as health insurance is concerned, Cole said, the association is looking at either entering into a partnership with the state’s insurance program or offering a program all association members can join.

Cheryl Subler, also a senior policy analyst with the association, added that the organization is seeking legislation that will allow counties to enter into insurance programs with the state. Although the state’s insurance and the insurance provided to the counties would remain separate, both the state and the counties could receive a cheaper premium package, Subler said.

With collective purchasing, Subler told the commissioners, counties could get a better deal.

If this deal falls through, the association is researching the possibility of offering its own insurance package. So far, Subler said, the association has developed a task force researching the feasibility of entering into this type of arrangement. Although this task force is in its infancy, the next step, she added, is to bring an expert in health insurance on board as a consultant.

"We’ve really wrestled with this insurance issue," Stephens told the association reps.

"I would love to see the state bargain out the insurance," Herrell added. He said this would make counties more competitive in negotiating with insurance companies.

Insurance for county employees has taken a hit over the last year. According to information from Stephens, the county has been forced to decrease the amount it pays for employees’ insurance. Before, the county paid 85 percent of the insurance cost. Now, the county pays 75 percent.

The county’s insurance rate increased about 65 percent for this year. If the county would have continued funding 85 percent, the costs would have been about $1.6 million.

By reducing the amount the county pay, it was able to save about a $500,000. But this money now comes from the paychecks of employees.