Commissioners consider inmate health care costs

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

With employees distressed over higher health care insurance costs, nine of 18 Marshall County commissioners on Thursday heard three insurance salesmen pitch health care services for county jail inmates.

"We're struggling with health care insurance for employees and there are people who put themselves here and they're getting free health care," County Commissioner Seth Warf said. "I don't want to pay anything more than we have to for anything and I sure don't want to do it for those here."

More than $300,000 a year has been spent on inmate health care, according to Commissioner Mickey King, chairman of the county budget committee. County Mayor Joe Boyd Liggett says the county has been spending more than $1.1 million on employee health insurance premiums.

Employee insurance costs and what's paid for health care for inmates have been noticed by officials and employees. There are about 115 inmates at the jail. Not counting teachers and others working for the school system, the county employs about 182 people through which perhaps 70 more are insured by county-subsidized policies.

The Law Enforcement Committee meeting followed a morning budget session when employees and their department directors approached commissioners on the budget committee in the Courthouse Annex. Employees were distraught over a plan that would greatly increase the deductible for their health insurance.

A discussion between employees and commissioners was rescheduled from Tuesday to Monday this week. And after Thursday morning's Budget Committee meeting, Commission Chairwoman Mary Ann Neill said members of that panel seemed to believe that an alternative could be found. It might prevent the employees' deductible increasing from $500 to $2,500 as previously planned.

At the end of the two-hour meeting of the law enforcement committee Thursday evening, commissioners decided to defer a decision on which policy to buy.

June 29 at 5 p.m. is when the committee is to reconvene for a vote on the health care service for jail inmates.

The committee did vote to have County Accounts and Budget Director Freda Terry ask the business that's already providing health care if it would extend its contract. That's to be in the same way the commission and Congress adopt continuing resolutions to keep spending money on government operations at the same rate until another budget is adopted.

The three companies competing for the health care contract for county jail inmates are: Advanced Correctional Healthcare with offices in Peoria, Ill.; Detention Health Care Associates of Maryville, Tenn, and; Southern Health Partners of Chattanooga.

The contract to be signed would succeed a four-year agreement.

Meanwhile, the committee voted to accept the one bid submitted for computer equipment and software to update the jail's booking system.

"We contacted 13 vendors and got one bid," Terry told the committee.

The software is costing $13,740. The hardware costs $8,400. An annual maintenance contract costs $3,000. The committee unanimously accepted the one bidder.

Also Thursday, the panel deferred a decision on how an agreement on school resource officers should be changed. The contract started in 1998-1999.