Chesterton Tribune

Commissioners looking for fresh start with employee health insurance

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By JEFF SCHULTZ

A mixed reaction to the newly proposed high deductible health plan for Porter County government employees has the County Board of Commissioners ready to do a complete overhaul on the plan for next year.

Employees packed the commissioner chambers on Tuesday, many of them noticeably from the county sheriff’s department, to see how the commissioners would move on the plan that was brought forward earlier this month by the county’s insurance agent, Anton Insurance, and its third party administrator Stewart C. Miller.

According to the proposal, employees would pay an annual deductible of $2,500 for an individual or $5,000 for family coverage with the option of setting up a health savings account. Money in employees’ health savings accounts could carry over from year-to-year and be used to pay off claims or other medical costs.

But the deductibles are significant when compared to three current plans the county has available, which start with deductibles of $350 for singles and $700 for families.

The HSA plan could save the county anywhere from $1.3 million to $2 million next year according to an actuarial report from Milliman Inc. and reduce expenses in the county’s General Fund, where approximately one-fourth of the revenues go to insurance costs.

Instead of taking a vote, the commissioners opted to create a five-member committee to look at further options that would mitigate costs and offer more affordable premiums and deductibles for employees.

“We are taking every consideration to be equal with what we have now,” County Commissioner President John Evans, R-North, told those sitting in the audience. He said the county needs to realize that the health care market is changing and the county must adapt accordingly, telling the employees they “have to have some skin in the matter.”

“It’s something that will overcome us if we don’t take control,” Evans said. “We can’t afford to go on the way we are and keep the county solvent.”

The committee will consist of four employees who are on the county’s current insurance plan – one member who is not married, one member who is married but without children, one member who is married with children and one member who has special medical needs – to advise how plans would affect them. Evans will be the committee’s fifth member.

Members will be selected by next week, Evans said, and will start immediately on looking at different health plans. He hopes the committee can make a recommendation to the commissioners and the council by November so the plan can start on Jan. 1 next year.

As a result of the effort, the commissioners voted unanimously to terminate the contract it has with HealtheACCESS, which under the county’s health plan provides free or inexpensive health screenings, wellness programs and clinic visits to the employees. Evans said the vote was in no way to discredit the organization but just to ensure the county would not be bound to continue the contract in 2013 in case the county wishes to move in another direction.

“I don’t think we should be locked into any plan until the committee comes up with a recommendation,” said Evans.

The momentum to revamp the county’s health plan was amplified by findings in a preliminary comprehensive report of the county’s finances presented Tuesday by representatives from H.J. Umbaugh & Associates of Plymouth. The presentation was made later to the County Council (see related story).

Todd Samuelson and Bob Clifford from Umbaugh projected that the county will see a $1.7 million loss of revenue in 2013 because of the state tax cap legislation. To make up for the loss, the report said reductions in spending, reallocating tax levies or revenue shifts will be needed to sustain the county’s optimal cash reserves of 15 percent of budgeted expenditures.

Further comments regarding health insurance in the report indicate that the county is paying its health premiums close to the national average and lower than most Indiana counties of comparable size.

Mike Anton of Anton Insurance said new mandates at the federal level have reformed the way health care operates. With laws that make any citizen capable of purchasing health insurance, companies are shifting their focus to “managing populations” rather than evaluating risks.

It will become more common for companies to push programs that promote health wellness, Anton said. Challenges from insurance and tax caps continue to get more daunting but Anton remained optimistic.

“Porter County is well-positioned. We just need to tune it up,” said Anton.

Control of health costs would require joint efforts by the commissioners and County Council, Evans added, and “every dollar” must be scrutinized.

Expo interim director named

In another matter, the commissioners announced Valparaiso resident Ken Blaney has accepted an offer to become head of the county Expo Center as temporary replacement for former manager Brian Schafer, who resigned in July.

Evans cited Blaney’s background as a business owner and event coordinator as the reason he was chosen as interim director. He is the former owner of Kelsey’s Steak House and currently operates a remodeling and construction company.

Blaney is married to at-large County Council member Laura Blaney.

Earlier this month, the commissioners appointed Michelle Smith as interim director for the Memorial Opera House, a second venue Schafer had overseen.

Also on Tuesday, the commissioners received three bids for the roof restoration project for the County Courthouse which ranged from $191,000 to $231,000. Mike Jabo of DLZ Indiana will make a bid recommendation at the Sept. 4 commissioner meeting.

Plans are also moving along with the county’s effort to meet ADA compliance act, which is mandated to be done this year. The commissioners approved a contract with American StructurePoint of Indianapolis for $116,000, which will be taken out of county CEDIT funds.

 

 

Posted 8/22/2012