After nearly 3-1/2 hours of deliberations with insurance agents, Marshall County's Employee Benefits Committee on Tuesday voted to recommend hiring a new agent to shop for a new health insurance policy for nearly 250 people.
Chris Hartnett of Roussel & Associates in Brentwood succeeds Jim Malone of Malone Co., Fayetteville, according to County Commission Chairwoman Mary Ann Neill, a member of the Budget Committee that met in joint session with the Benefits Committee in the Courthouse Annex.
Another joint session is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. on Aug. 20 when the Benefits Committee could make a recommendation on an insurance plan to the Budget Committee.
The change in agents and adoption of a new health insurance plan would become official during a mid-September meeting of the County Commission when the county's 2009-'10 budget is to be adopted.
Tuesday night's meeting was the second in recent weeks to include several agents representing their firms. All were competing to represent the county to insurance companies.
The decision to recommend Roussel & Associates was a step toward lowering health insurance costs and resolving controversy that arose when county employees were told their deductible payments would go from $500 a year to $2,500.
No set plan was selected Tuesday when Commissioner Jimmy Stitt took the lead again in questioning agents on what they believe they can accomplish for the county. Stitt and Commissioner Mickey King, chairman of the budget Committee, arrived at the Courthouse Annex armed with spreadsheets they'd worked up from numbers obtained at a previous meeting.
The numbers were, however, speculative - not confirmed because none of the agents, at that time, were authorized to shop for the county, Neill explained Wednesday morning.
Hartnett "is in a bargaining position now," Neill said; "authorized to represent us. Previously, they were just shopping for numbers.
"The money Hartnett will earn will be broker fees," she said, indicating that will depend on the policy selected. "It's all generated by the premiums."
Also Wednesday, Stitt explained why he suggested the committee recommend Roussel & Associates.
"His product was better than what we currently have because it would take the deductible away from the employees but leave the same prescription co-pays and the co-pays to go to the doctor, and it might be able to save us some money," Stitt said.
The county has been paying approximately $970,000 through the 2008-'09 budget, a spending plan that has continued beyond the July 1 start of the current fiscal year. Only some of the county employees pay some of the cost of insurance premiums because only some have a family plan.
"The total of the premiums would be $1,189,000 in 2008-'09 and he (Hartnett) felt he could get something better and maybe save us some money," Stitt said. "The employees would pay the difference between that $1.189 million and the $970,000 paid by the county. The employees pay some of the premiums.
"We provide insurance for the employee, but if they have dependants, then they pay a portion of the premium," Stitt said, emphasizing, "We haven't selected a plan. We've just selected him as a broker to shop for us."
Property Assessor Linda Haislip was among nearly a dozen county employees attending the Tuesday night meeting on employee health insurance.
"I think they're working hard on the program and trying to do what's best for the county and the employees," Haislip said of the commissioners. "They're taking more time with this just to make sure those two issues are covered."