Chesterton Tribune

Council hears plan to save county millions in health insurance costs

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By JEFF SCHULTZ

The Porter County Council reached out to health insurance experts on Tuesday to consider potential changes to the county’s employee insurance plan.

Council President Dan Whitten, D-at large, said the purposed of the meeting was to get a better understanding of the inner workings of the insurance plan in order to cut down the guesswork when the council does its budgeting.

The county’s insurance carrier, Anton Insurance of Chesterton, said it is difficult to estimate where insurance costs are going to be due to constant fluctuations in the number of employees on the plan.

“There are highs and lows and you have no way of determining what those will be,” said agency principal Mike Anton.

The number of recipients changes monthly. Anton counted 596 employees on the plan as of Jan. 31 compared to 607 in December, which can make a difference when the cost to self-insure employees is at $867 per month.

Nicole Eagan, CPA with Stewart C. Miller insurance group, said the average monthly costs per employee has dropped by a rate of more than $300 since 2011 while the national rate is expected to increase by 7.8 percent this year.

Anton said that the spike seen last year (when costs jumped from $7.5 million in 2010 to $9.3 million in 2011) was due to more dependents being brought on to the plan as a result of federal healthcare reforms.

The county saw 26 instances this past year where individuals spent equal to or more than the plan’s $125,000 self-funded maximum exposure per employee, which was a higher number than usual.

“It’s running a little hot,” said Anton.

Anton said the county has been caught in a bad cycle, which is typical. The plan is now at 81 percent for claims, which is slightly higher than what is expected for this cycle.

In order to dodge the many changes and requirements brought in by new reforms that “make it very cumbersome,” Anton recommended the county offer an additional plan to its three existing plans in order to retain its grandfather status.

The agency felt its wellness incentive programs have contributed to the recent decline in the number of claims. The programs are utilized by nearly 30 percent of county employees and include activities such as health screenings and rewards employees who make an effort to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

Anton and associate Leigh Westergren said they hope they can increase the utilization rate to 50 percent, saving the county costs in the six-to-seven figure range.

Bill Cummins, the new CEO of HealtheACCESS, said his clinics are in talks with Porter hospital to offer employee discounts on services. The clinics themselves offer primary and emergency care 30-40 percent cheaper than a visit to a physician’s office on average and 80 percent cheaper than a trip to the emergency room.

The organization is also used by the City of Valparaiso and Porter-Starke Services under their employee health insurance plans who have seen significant savings.

A Dinosaur Plan

For an outside perspective, the council heard from actuary Randy Gomez of the Indianapolis-based Nyhart company, which specializes in employee benefits advice. Gomez said in his personal opinion, the county’s current plan is “not a bad one” but essentially is a “a dinosaur plan.”

He said many governmental units have stuck with their traditional plans but the health care industry has drastically changed in recent years and more solutions exist.

Gomez offered to look at the county’s record of claims going back three years and determine the reason the county saw a jump of more than $2 million in 2011.

“That doesn’t just happen. Something has to happen in order for that to happen,” said Gomez.

Council member Jim Biggs, R-1st, favored the idea of trying out other options saying the county under the commissioners choice has held the same type of plan for 20 years and agreed it may be time to look outside the box.

“It is clear there are options you can really get creative with,” said Biggs, “We owe it to ourselves to look at this.”

Similar comments were made by Council member Jim Polarek, R-4th, who asked why the county has a $125,000 maximum exposure per employee when municipalities elsewhere have as low as a $33,000 maximum.

$4 million in Savings –

Too Good to be True?

The county may take a more creative path as it will deliberate working with a company that claims it can save the county $4 million insurance costs in less than a year without reducing coverage.

National business advisor Thomas Quigley of Cincinnati with his company ClaimLinx said he can seek out measures in a national health insurance act to efficiently save money. The plan would allow the county to keep Anton Insurance as its provider and reduce the amount of risk by bringing in backup insurers, provide more coverage for dependents and create desirable retirement plans for employees.

Quigley’s consulting business has clients in 18 states and currently one city in Indiana – Huntington – where costs dropped from $1.5 million per year to $648,000.

The $4 million saved for the county could help solve other funding issues such as the $2 million annual shortfalls in E-911, Polarek said.

Whitten said he “liked what he heard” but felt it wise to look at other options to possibly bid out while taking the ClaimLinx proposal under consideration. The council asked Anton to review the plan thoroughly with Quigley and come back with a recommendation.

Anton admitted the pitch sounds “very intriguing” and “attractive,” but almost “sounds too good to be true.”

“It deserves a lot more investigation,” he said.

Quigley told the council he would charge 20 percent for his services on each dollar saved, which means the county won’t have to pay the firm anything if no savings are made.

Resolution Blocked

In the final moments of Tuesday’s meeting Council member Jeremy Rivas, D-2nd, made an attempt to pass a resolution establishing an ordinance that would clarify who in Porter County Government would be eligible to receive health insurance through the county.

A draft of the proposal states members of the county Board of Commissioners and the County Council would no longer be included in the plan. The resolution states that eligibility for the county health plan would be restricted to full-time employees, public defenders and any other individuals under service contracts approved by the County Council and elected officials, excluding all county commissioners and councilmen.

Rivas urged a vote be taken to pass the resolution. “We have to do something about it. I wouldn’t bring something if I didn’t think it was important,” he said.

But the effort was halted by Whitten who said he didn’t think the council had the legal ability to pass the measure since health insurance policies are decided by the commissioners.

Whitten also said the ordinance could not be considered because it had not been properly advertised on the agenda.

All members except Rivas and Biggs agreed to adjourn. The remaining council members said they hadn’t seen it, neither had council attorney Scott McClure who commented that if the council decided to consider the measure, it should be addressed during the fall budget hearings.

 

 

Posted 2/8/2012