County opens proposals for health insurance

Published 12:00 am Friday, November 14, 2003

"It's not devastating." That's the way Lawrence County Commissioner Jason Stephens described the proposals submitted for the county's health insurance coverage for its employees.

Proposals were opened Thursday after the regular commissioners' meeting. While prices are going up, commissioners concede it could be worse, and there are options for lessening the burden on both the county's general fund and individual employees.

Only one company turned in proposals - Brown Raybourn and Associates of Ashland, Ky. Brown Raybourn offered proposals from Medical Mutual, the county's current carrier, as well as Nationwide and United Healthcare.

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Although they had not had the chance to look closely at the other proposals, Stephens and fellow Commissioner Doug Malone seemed most interested in the Medical Mutual bid. Commission President George Patterson was absent due to an illness.

Medical Mutual offered a proposal for the same coverage the county has now, but the price tag is a bit higher: the cost of insuring the county employees under this plan would increase 10.79 percent. However, Medical Mutual offered two alternate proposals aimed at keeping costs down by altering deductibles and prescription plans.

Alternate One would increase premiums by only 10.71 percent by moving some employees to a new prescription card that has higher co-payments for brand name and non-formulary drugs. The co-payment for generic drugs would be $10; brand name $20 and non-formulary $30. Brown Raybourn associate Belinda McCollum said this prescription card is the same plan that is now used by employees who last year chose the $750 deductible health insurance option over the $250 and $500 deductible.

Brown Raybourn and Associates agent David Brown said prescription drug costs continue to be one of the biggest health insurance issues. The less expensive rates for generic drugs will no doubt entice some people to choose generic brand whenever possible and thus save themselves money and keep insurance costs down as a whole.

"You've got to control your prescription drug costs," Brown said. "We want the employees to have the best benefits we can, but you get to the point that you only have so much money to work with."

Medical Mutual's Alternate Plan 2 would increase out of pocket costs for employees but would reduce the hike in premiums to only 7.67 percent.

McCollum said Anthem/Blue Cross submitted a viable option but had to withdraw it because the county had asked for a proposal from the County Commission Association of Ohio (through its self-insurance fund) and Anthem has a no-compete agreement with that entity. Etna Insurance, Medical Benefits Mutual and Pacific Life and Annuity all declined to submit proposals.

Stephens said the commission would look over all of the proposals and would probably decide next Thursday what proposal to accept.