County faces health insurance cost increase

Published 7:59 am Tuesday, May 10, 2016

County Budget Graphic
Members of the Carter County Budget Committee discussed the rising cost of insurance and budgets for the school system, highway department and debt service during a meeting and workshop session on Monday evening.
The committee began the evening with their regular monthly meeting and heard an update on health insurance costs from County Finance Director Christa Byrd.
Currently, the county carries the employee insurance policy through BlueCross BlueShield. Byrd told the committee if the county elects to stay with BlueCross they can expect to see a larger increase on the premiums they must pay.
“We originally had an increase of 30 percent,” Byrd said.
The county’s contracted insurance broker then negotiated with BlueCross and the company offered an increase of 16 percent and then came back with a third offer which would increase the insurance costs by 13 percent.
Byrd said the broker then asked if she wanted him to look at other health insurance providers and she asked him to do so. The broker reported back that United Healthcare had offered a “comparable” insurance plan that would see the county’s costs increasing by only about 8 percent.
“These plans are very comparable,” Byrd said. “The copays are the same, the deductibles are the same and the networks are very comparable, I’m told.”
“Our broker has assured me this is very good coverage,” she added.
Committee member L.C. Tester, who is an employee of the Carter County Sheriff’s Office and is on the county’s health insurance plan said he opposed switching companies. Tester said the county had previously held a policy through United Healthcare and many employees had experienced difficulties when using that company’s insurance.
“They are not a very good company,” Tester said. “It’s hard to find a doctor that will take them.”
“We will do the employees of this county an injustice if we go with this,” he added.
Byrd said she had heard complaint’s similar to Tester’s from other employees but said she had also heard from employees who said they preferred the health coverage they had under United Healthcare before the county switched to BlueCross.
Commissioner Dr. Robert Acuff, who was filling in on the committee for Commissioner Buford Peters, said he also had concerns with switching to United Healthcare. Acuff cited recent news reports regarding United Healthcare’s recent financial losses as one of the biggest insurance providers through the Health Insurance Marketplace under the Affordable Care Act.
“Are we sure of how stable this company is?” Acuff asked.
Acuff also asked Byrd what sort of position the county would be in if half-way through the year United Healthcare closed up and if the county could then return to the BlueCross policy. Byrd said returning to the BlueCross policy in that event would be completely up to BlueCross accepting the county back.
Some committee members expressed concern that employees would find themselves having to change healthcare providers if the county switched insurance carriers.
Members of the committee unanimously voted to defer a decision on which insurance company to go with until the meeting of the full County Commission next week in order to allow the insurance broker time to compare the list of local providers to see if they were similar.
Byrd cautioned the committee that a decision could not wait another month because the decision on the insurance provider would affect the budget of every county department in having to fund the increased costs, whether it is 13 percent or 8 percent.
Following the official committee meeting, members entered into a budget workshop session to review budget requests from the Carter County School System, the Highway Department and the county’s debt service.
“Our budget is the same as it was last year, but we did change some line items around,” Road Superintendent Roger Colbaugh told the committee.
Director of Schools Dr. Kevin Ward told the committee the school system was once again presenting a balanced budget request to the county. While there are increased expenditures in this year’s budget over last year’s, Ward said the school system is also receiving additional revenue from the state through an increase in Basic Education Program (BEP) funding.
Ward said the budget includes the state funded 3 percent raise for teachers along with a request for a 4 percent raise for the system’s para-professionals who have not had a raise in several years.
The amount of funding needed to pay the county’s debt service — which covers loans taken out by the county for various construction projects and purchases — will decrease this year, Byrd told the committee. The county will be paying off one debt note before the current fiscal year is over so funding for that loan payment will not be needed for the 2016-17 budget.

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