Volunteer Fire Department and health insurance highlight Health and Welfare meeting

With a new year comes plans for change, and Carter County is already coming up with ways to improve their dealings with the county for the foreseeable future, both within and without.

Fire Chief Jack Buckles of the Volunteer Fire Department at Stoney Creek spoke to Carter County’s Health and Welfare Committee meeting Tuesday evening to discuss the formation of a unified task force, linking together fire departments, Emergency Medical Services and first responders to more effectively serve their communities.

Buckles said he had been working on this idea for the last year, but the idea stalled after talks with the city.

“I wanted to unite fire departments so we can work together,” Buckles said.

Though committee members said the concept of consolidation was never easy to talk about, commissioner Brad Johnson said the change would be necessary.

“I think we are going to have to look at this,” Johnson said. “These guys are a required service for our community.”

Buckles said the work the volunteers and employees do is vital, but not infallible.

“I am proud to be a volunteer fireman, but there are ways we can be more efficient,” Buckles said. “We did a lot better in the past when we worked together.”

The committee did not discuss specific details on what this task force would entail, but it did vote to keep the conversation going in the near future.

Health insurance became another key topic during the meeting, with a presentation from an independent insurance broker detailing the changes to their current health care program.

The presentation described a roughly 3 percent premium increase over the past five years

These come after price increases 13 percent two years ago and a 9 percent increase last year.

“It sounds like you are baiting us,” Johnson said. “Insurance companies are legalized robbers.”

The presentation briefly considered the possibility of a self-funded insurance plan, which the committee discussed in length.

They said many of their employees cannot afford to put their family members on their insurance plans, meaning they are one major illness or accident away from financial hardship, an issue Sheriff Dexter Lunceford said is made worse by the restrictions placed on programs like Obamacare: if a company like Carter County offers any kind of alternative, they are ineligible for Obamacare.

The committee voted to explore how nearby counties implement their own self-funded insurance programs and to come up with a possible plan to create their own.

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