County health insurance cost could go up

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

By Karen Hall


More than 50 county employees attended a meeting of the county's employee benefits committee last Thursday.

"I'm very glad to see all you interested people here at the meeting," said chairman Rocky Bowden. "It's rare to have so many people at one of our committee meetings."

"This should be important to everybody," agreed Budget Director Catherine Brooks. "Thank you all so much for taking such an interest."

The purpose of the meeting was to hear the "Marshall County Government Mid-Year Benefits Review," presented by Paul Roussel, a vice president of Brown & Brown Tennessee, the insurance broker used by the county.

"You all are a very important customer of ours," Roussel said.

He talked about changes the Affordable Care Act had made in the health insurance market, and then reviewed the changes his company helped the county make last year.

Starting in July 2013, the county employees' health insurance carrier changed from BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee to Humana, Roussel said. For the most part, this reduced out-of-pocket expenses for policy holders, though payments for lab work remain an issue. Employees actually paid a total of $10,000 less per year for their insurance, while the county paid $29,000 more.

Now, halfway through the year, Roussel reviewed the claims history, and it was a dismal picture.

Insurance companies want to run at 72 or 73 percent, he explained. In other words, for every $100 paid to them in premiums, they expect to pay out $72 or $73 in claims.

Apart from July, Humana has been losing money on Marshall County every month, Roussel said. For $100 paid in premiums in August, they paid out $110 in claims; September was $132; October, $118; and November, $127. There have been three "pretty significant" claims, including one over $100,000, and policyholders have visited the emergency room much more than average.

"We've got a tough job ahead," said Roussel, referring to finding affordable insurance for county employees.

Part of the problem could be the employees' state of health. All but seven participated in a health screening, which showed many were overweight and thus at risk for heart disease and diabetes. Many also completed an online survey, and in the survey, 52 percent reported that they smoked.

"I was shocked by the smokers," said Roussel. "Our population is not very healthy. It's going to take everybody working together to turn this around."

After answering questions from the audience, Roussel wrapped up his presentation by saying, "You guys are very important for us. We value the relationship, and we appreciate everything you've done for us."

Every third year, the county asks for bids from providers of insurance services. Brown & Brown Tennessee would like to keep the job, of course, but local agency Collins & Miller is interested in bidding, and so is Willis Group, an international firm with offices in Tennessee. Brown & Brown Tennessee is a member of the Brown & Brown Insurance group, "one of the world's 10 largest insurance intermediaries," according to their website.

"What you're really bidding is service," said Bowden.

"We want somebody who's going to fight for us," agreed a member of the audience.

"I thank each and every one for being here," Bowden said as the meeting concluded. "It's honestly a pleasure to see you."