Health insurance policy being rebid

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Reacting to their employees' outrage over a health insurance deductible proposed at $2,500 - up from $500 - county commissioners are shopping for a new policy.

Deciding to do so may have been preordained, but in a series of quick committee meetings before their special-called meeting last week, commissioners filled their Employee Benefits Committee membership, effectively resetting the stage for the health insurance debate.

The county has been paying about $1.18 million annually to insure 182 employees, nearly 250 people with their dependants, officials have said. Premiums were to go up 15 percent had the deductible not been increased.

Faced with employees' reactions, the commission obtained a 90-day extension on the current policy with its underwriter to have time to shop around.

Now, insurance agents may obtain information at Budget Director Freda Terry's office in the Courthouse Annex on Lewisburg's public square. Specifications are in what might be described as a blend of the traditional bid call and a request for proposals. The county wants a specified minimum coverage, and a set of prices on two plans, but insurance agents may offer additional coverage so commissioners may select what seems best.

Still, the two basic options for agents to offer are: what's in effect now with a $500 deductible, and; a policy offering higher deductibles listed at $2,500 to $5,000, after which all medical costs are paid - 100 percent.

Complete lists of employees, their demographic information and medical conditions are available to the insurance companies that may want to quote prices to the county, but that employee "census" information was not available to others Tuesday when Terry cited a federal law on the privacy of medical records.

The information is important because it will reflect the risks faced by insurers who could design policies for workers with serious medical needs as well as others who are in good health.

Bids are to be opened at 2 p.m. on July 30 in Terry's office on the second floor of the Courthouse Annex. No successful bidder will be announced until after the proposals are compared. A new policy is to start on Oct. 1.

In anticipation of this bid opening, the various panels that advise the commission met and nominated commissioners to the Employee Benefits Committee. For example, Commissioner Seth Warf was nominated by the Roads Committee and subsequently appointed to the Benefits Committee.

Warf's reaction to his new assignment: "I want to talk with them [employees] and know their thinking. They're the ones who will be impacted."

"I'm a person of choice," he said, explaining he wants several options for the employees.

Other commissioners appointed to the Benefits Committee include Billy Spivey from the Law Enforcement Committee, Mickey King from the Budget Committee, Reynelle Smith from the Ambulance Committee and Jimmy Stitt from the Education Committee.