County boosts self insurance to hold employee premiums

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MONTROSE – County employees won’t see an increase in their health insurance rates this year, but just barely.

At Tuesday’s Lee County Board of Supervisors’ meeting, Justin Pieper of Group Benefit Partners outlined the options for the county after Wellmark Blue Cross Blue Shield indicated that premiums for county employees would increase more than 11 percent with the upcoming contract.

Currently, county employees pay $20 per month for an individual policy and $95 for a family policy. The county picks up the rest of the premiums, about $1,700 on the family plan, but also self insures the deductible after the employee meets $750. The current contract has a $3,000 deductible per county employee, so the county pays the remaining $2,250 of each employee’s deductible before the Wellmark plan kicks outside of copays.

Pieper told supervisors Matt Pflug, Don Hunold, and Gary Folluo that the self insurance plan gives them some options to reduce the increase including moving the self-insurance portion to $5,000, which reduces the impact on the premiums to less than 2%. Supervisors Ron Fedler and Rick Larkin were absent.

Pflug said the county has been discussing employee premiums for a long time and said he wants the county to provide the best insurance possible, but keeping the premiums and coverages consistent is becoming more and more difficult.

“I think that this board, or any future board, will eventually have to make a decision that this will have to be increased,” Pflug said.

“I think we should continue it if we can do that. However you have to be realistic here, too. You go other places, a family plan is $400 or $500 a month. This is taxpayers’ money we’re talking about. A lot of times employees, if it’s not in their paycheck or hand, they don’t understand what that means.”

He said the benefit package is a very good package for a very low price.

“This is huge, but I think if we can continue to offer this health insurance we should, but at this price we’re practically giving it away,” Pflug said.

Peiper said previous renewals have been relatively easy and the county looked at moving the deductible last year, but decided to wait for a year when increases were stiffer.

“In our conversations last year, we talked about this option, but we decided to put that off to a year when the increase was higher, Pieper said. “My recommendation would be to keep the benefits the same and if we end up with our backs against the wall – prices aren’t going down – to use those increased copays to help keep costs down.”

The county also participates in a wellness program administered through Group Benefit Partners. Pieper told the board that he will be back in front of them with that plan and that could result in increased premiums for employees that don’t participate in the program.

Board chairman Don Hunold said if the county was able to keep the premiums where they are they should, but county employees need to be ready for the increase.

“As long as we can keep it there and not take a huge hit we should, but it’s coming,” he said. “They don’t have to look too far to see what other people are paying. We don’t work in a vacuum here.”

Pflug asked Pieper what he’s seeing in the market and Pieper said typically its 75%/25% premium split between employer and employee and he said family plans are costing employees $500 to $800 a month.

In other action, the council,

– approved using John Hanson of Midwest Construction Consultants, to put together a package that would allow the county to solicit bids for improvements to the jail kitchen. The county hasn’t agreed to make the improvements yet, but wanted to see actual costs associated with the project. The sheriff’s department is looking at bringing in a third party to provide meals for inmates at the jail at a reduced cost. Currently, Iowa State Penitentiary provides two meals per day at a cost of $3.25 per meal. Sheriff Stacy Weber said he’s looking at a program that would reduce that price to about $1.83 per meal on a sliding scale based on the number of inmates. Preliminary numbers indicate the county could save roughly $25,000 per year under the new program.

-approved renewing employee life insurance coverage with Group Benefit Partners with an increase of .21/$1,000.

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