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County employee health insurance costs down in 2019

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By LILY REX

The Porter County Board of Commissioners heard at its meeting Tuesday that it saved $1.4 million on employee health insurance in 2019 compared to 2018.

R.E. Sutton Consultant Tony Bontrager reported costs are down again after the Board switched County employee health insurance to a plan from United Healthcare, following a big push to lower insurance costs in 2018.

Bontrager said dental costs were down 15.4 percent in 2019, and though Rx costs were up about 10 percent, medical claims were down 17 percent. The total cost of the plan in 2019 was down by 15.1 percent compared to its first year, saving a total of $1.4 million, according to Bontrager.

Bontrager said the uptick in Rx costs is a trend he’s seeing where Rx costs are up by eight to 12 percent. The increase is due in part to expensive medications that are tailored for specific illnesses, he said. Bontrager said they’re “life-saving and life-changing” drugs, but adding just one to the list of covered medications can drive up Rx costs.

Commissioner Jim Biggs (R-North) said the continued reduction in cost is a big step since the County used to pay as much as $14 million annually for insurance. The 2018 switch brought costs down to about $9 million, and in 2019 the County spent about $8.5 million.

That half a million more than pays for the wellness clinics the Board made available to employees through a contract with Franciscan Alliance last year, Commissioner Jeff Good (R-Center) said. Bontrager said use of the clinics may have had a hand in cutting costs.

Biggs and Good said despite the cheaper price tag, the County has never had a plan that offered such a large network to employees--the new network extends to several Chicago hospitals. “When people went into Chicago before, we had to negotiate with the individual hospitals up there, which was like hand-to-hand combat,” Good said. “We really haven’t sacrificed anything for the employees, and it makes me feel even better.”

County Attorney Scott McClure noted that $500,000 can seem like a pittance compared to the total plan cost, but that’s about a three percent raise for all County employees. “When we’re trying to come up with money for a raise, that is the raise money,” he said.

The Board continues to trim the fat from the planÑthey took Bontrager’s recommendations to eliminate two benefits that employees aren’t using and cap the cost for out-of-network emergency air transport at $25,000. The two programs done away with are a maternity management program that costs $4,500 and year and has had no participation, and a 24-hour nurse line that costs $3,500 a year and saw little to no use. Employees will also be required to use in-network dialysis centers going forward.

Employee Internet Use

Good began the meeting with a warning to County employees since reports from the IT department show a high usage of County internet for nonwork purposes. Good said the reports rubbed the Board the wrong way in light of its recent discussions on cybersecurity and how Porter County has managed to avoid becoming the target of hackers the likes of which both Lake and LaPorte counties have fallen victim to. ”It’s sort of a slap in our face when this happens. We don’t take it very kindly,” he said.

The news warrants a crackdown on internet use, Good said. “We are creating a list now, and what will happen if this continues is we will bring these names, and I don’t care who they are, we will be talking about them and putting their names out in front,” he said. “This is the only way we can combat this.”

“We’ve all seen what’s happened on either side of us in other counties when they get hacked. It’s very expensive, and we don’t want to go there, especially when people are doing things they shouldn’t be doing in the first place at work,” Commissioner Laura Blaney (D-South) said.

EMA Presentation

Emergency Management Agency Director Lance Bella gave a presentation on the inner workings of EMA, highlighting the impact of the Department’s volunteers. He said he can’t think his volunteers enough.

The Department has between 16 and 20 volunteers at a given time, and Bella said a conservative estimate of how much time they spent on EMA last year is 2,736 hours. “We would have paid over $75,000 to these people, and that’s not to mention the money that they save us with the repairs they do,” he said.

Bella said not only do volunteers respond to emergency situations, they also maintain emergency equipment, including the 52 tornado sirens in the County. The volunteer spirit even extends to Bella’s administrative assistant, who volunteered to patch and paint the interior walls at EMA. Biggs said he saw unparalleled organization and cleanliness in a recent visit to the facility, and said the paint job “is a huge visual difference.”

Park Board

The Board voted to reappoint current member Bryan Waisanen and new member Carl English to the Porter County Park Board. The Commissioners now have two appointments to the Park Board instead of one, per a 2019 change in State law and subsequent resolution by the Porter County Council that eliminated the local circuit court judges’ appointments to that Board.

Other Approvals

In other business, the Board approved Porter County Clerk Jessica Bailey to transfer $58,900 from within her budget to purchase a special purpose vehicle, following a special meeting last week where Good was absent and Biggs didn’t agree with Blaney to greenlight the purchase. Good and Blaney voted to approve the purchase, and Biggs voted no again Tuesday. Bailey plans to use the vehicle as a mobile vote site and to transport equipment and absentee ballots and hold voter registration drives.

The Board approved on first reading an ordinance to establish a non-reverting fund to receive a $25,000 grant for the Porter Circuit Court Adult Guardianship Program. No one spoke for or against the creation of the fund in a public hearing, and there will be a second reading March 17. McClure said Circuit Court Judge Mary DeBoer, who was the driving force in obtaining the grant, sent her apologies that she was unable to attend the meeting.

The Board also approved a resolution assigning tax sale certificates to the Storm Water Management Board for some parcels up for tax sale that could help the Department of Development and Storm Water in future projects to alleviate drainage issues.

 

 

 

Posted 2/20/2020

 
 
 
 

 

 

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