Chesterton Tribune


County employees asked to enroll in new health plan; budget still perplexes

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At the start of what turned out to be a lengthy County Commissioners meeting Tuesday, the three-member board unanimously approved a revised health plan for Porter County Government employees and their families.

The Commissioners’ vote also dissolved the current four-pronged plan and replaced it with a two-option plan. The new plan was accepted as it was proposed by service agent Anton Insurance under recommendations by a special committee tasked with seeking out new health options that suited their needs while also bringing some relief to the County’s finances.

Commissioner President John Evans, R-North, summarized what the changes were and inferred the plan is not significantly different from the former setup. Instead of paying $5 in monthly co-pays for prescription medication, the employee will have to pay a $10 co-pay.

One plan he said would increase deductibles from $300 to $500 for single enrollees and $700 to $1,000 for family plans while the premiums would stay the same with $75 for singles and $175 for families.

The second option would offer a health savings account option where employees can pay annually into the HSA and can retain those funds each year. Single employees would pay at most a $1,250 deductible and families would pay a maximum deductible of $2,500.

Open enrollment just began and Evans gave a stern warning that any employee who does not sign up for a new plan through Anton Insurance by the time enrollment expires at the end of the year will not be able to receive health coverage.

“Everybody will be dropped from our current plan and will need to enroll again,” said Evans.

The only way for anyone to be considered later for the plan is if they are a new hire, he added.

Leigh Westergren, employee benefits specialist with Anton Insurance, said her firm can meet with employees for consultation throughout the day and in the evenings for a few hours.

The County has a total of 635 employees and with their families included, more than 1,400 receive the insurance.

The Commissioners, however, just started on finding a new contract for clinical services to go with the new plan and are considering three firms which responded to their Request for Proposals. Representatives for Franciscan Alliance, HealtheACCESS Clinics and Porter Health Care System all gave remarks on what they could offer the county. As of a few months ago, HealtheACCESS Clinics was contracted with the County but both parties mutually agreed to discontinue the agreement for the Commissioners to consider all options available to them.

After hearing all three presentations, the Commissioners have taken the proposals under advisement. The board, which also includes Commissioners Nancy Adams, R-Center, and Carole Knoblock, D-South, will select the clinic service provider at its next meeting on Dec. 4.

Insurance money

must be appropriated

Evans began to boast about the Commissioners’ work to create savings of up to $1 million on the county health insurance plan but his pride was dampened by the alleged $2.7 million that was cut from the Commissioners’ budget in the 2013 council-approved budget which would have partially gone to meet insurance costs.

According to consultant Bob Clifford, principal for H.J. Umbaugh and Associates, an appropriation of $1.5 million needs to be restored to properly fund the health care plan.

A slim majority of County Council members consisting of Jim Biggs, R-1st, Jeremy Rivas, D-2nd, Jim Polarek, R-4th, and Sylvia Graham, D-at Large, on final reading of the 2013 County Budget passed a budget of a little more than $38 million, rejecting an alternate budget by other Council members and Evans that would have given the Council use of $2.5 million in county economic development income tax money (CEDIT).

Biggs told the Tribune on Wednesday that the Council trimmed the budget by two percent to prepare for projected decreases in tax revenue due to decreased property values and the state’s circuit breaker tax caps. Biggs said the alternate budget would have only increased county spending.

Another objection by the four council members was that the CEDIT money offered was not adequate to cover recurring costs of opening the third pod at the Porter County Jail and it proposed using $1.65 million of hospital interest money annually, which they said would use it up more quickly than what it could be generated.

Evans subsequently questioned what budget items were cut inside the Commissioner’s budget but said he could not get answers from the County Council or the auditor. Finally last week, a copy of the budget surfaced for public view on the Indiana Department of Local Government Finance’s Gateway system.

Clifford presented a PowerPoint presentation Tuesday on details of the approved County budget and compared it with his firm’s data and projections.

According to Clifford, $2.7 million would be cut from the Commissioners and the health care plan, $445,000 would be cut from the Communications budget, $176,000 from the County Council, $173,000 from the County Clerk’s office and $86,000 from the Coroner’s office.

Additions included $210,000 for the IV-D Courts and $661,000 for the Sheriff’s Department to staff the third pod of the jail.

Clifford said that from his projections, the 2013 approved budget wouldn’t stand up to revenue loss from the tax caps by about $700,000. Both Biggs and County Auditor Bob Wichlinski said the budget is balanced by their definition because it gives departments the funds they can operate on and the Commissioners are sitting on millions of dollars in reserve funds.

Evans asked Clifford what he would suggest to prevent the budget from slipping into the red.

Clifford replied that with expenses going up, the County would have to make further budget cuts, tap into its reserve funds such as the hospital interest money, or increase CEDIT. He advised the county needs to look closely at its spending and also to vamp up its use of technology so that departments can become “better, faster and less expensive,” while admitting “it’s going to be a difficult process.”

Council no show on

hospital fund discussion

Meanwhile, Evans said he had been contacted by the County Council office about a matter regarding paying out a small amount of the hospital sale interest money, as was done last year for the Porter County Aging and Community Services, Opportunity Enterprises and Family and Youth Service Bureau.

The matter was requested by Council President Dan Whitten, D-at Large, with the intent that one of his peers would represent the Council at Tuesday’s Commissioner meeting.

Both the Commissioners and the Council’s need a majority on both boards to expend the fund.

Evans sent a memo back saying a Council member is welcome to attend the meeting but with the exception of Laura Shurr Blaney, D-at Large, nary a Council member was in sight Tuesday. Blaney will no longer have much of a say on the Council, since she will be sworn in as South County Commissioner in January.

Evans said the Commissioners will not move forward until he can get cooperation.

Biggs later told the Tribune the Council is not requesting use of those monies currently and the fiscal body does not request funds from the executive body, statutorily speaking.

The Council will meet for their final regular meeting of the year on Nov. 27 at 5:30 p.m.



Posted 11/21/2012