Chesterton Tribune

Evans replies to Biggs over county health insurance numbers

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By JEFF SCHULTZ

Porter County’s quest to lower the cost of employee health insurance costs got its latest push from County Commissioner John Evans, R-North, on Tuesday when he challenged claims made by County Council member Jim Biggs, R-1st. 

Biggs wrote a guest column appearing May 18 in the Chesterton Tribune saying that according to the county’s insurance provider “a total of 11,633 claims representing more than $14,572,821” occurred in over an eight-month period from 2011-2012. He said this “is nearly 38 percent of the entire 2012 general operations budget” for the county.

In a response, Evans said “(Biggs) failed to explain that the amount was reduced by nearly $6 million through PPO (preferred provider organization) discounts, pricing arrangements with providers, co-pays and deductibles, and payments from the County’s reinsurance program.” Evans accredited the savings to the controls put in place by his board.

“Currently our per employee health care cost is approximately $15,800, which is not too far off the national average. But we want to do better. We are negotiating further plan modifications that are focused on cost controls,” said Evans, who hopes those plans will manifest over the summer.

Evans also contended Biggs’ numbers were wrong about the number of employees on the plan and the number of claims filed.

Biggs told the Tribune on Wednesday the figures he presented were given to him by Anton Insurance, the county’s insurance provider, during a special council meeting in February held to address healthcare costs.

“If those figures were wrong, it’s because the figures that were given to us by our insurance carrier were wrong,” Biggs said.

The county assessor’s office on Wednesday said they did not provide figures to Biggs and that the most exposure, taking into account the number of employees and dependents on the plan, would be $12.5 million. County auditor Robert Wichlinski estimated health insurance costs currently amount to about 25 percent of the General Fund.

Biggs in his column advocated removing commissioners and council members from health insurance coverage as “it does send the right message that we are attempting to chip away at this thing until we get to an affordable solution.” He also stated that Indiana law classifies elected officials as part-time and “according to county policy, part-time employees cannot participate in the health insurance program.”

Biggs’ reasoning came under fire by Evans who said he could not find any mention in state statutes that designates the duty of a county executive body and fiscal body as a part-time or full time classification. The distinction of a full time employee is under the discretion of the employer according to federal law, Evans argued and said that if council members wish to be classified part-time by working less than 30-hours per week on an hourly wage, the commissioners would not object.

Addressing an earlier proposal from the county council regarding a contract with a company called ClaimLinx, Evans said the City of Huntington, which contracted with the company, dropped their plan last month because parts of it were not approved by the Indiana Department of Insurance. The ClaimLinx plan would do away with a group plan and put employees on individual health plans. ClaimLinx representatives during a presentation in February said they could have saved the county $4 million per year in health insurance costs or $2,000 to $4,000 per employee.

Evans believes that a council member learned about ClaimLinx through a Website and said “as with most things on the Internet, if it looks too good to be true, it usually is.”

Porter County’s challenges with health insurance are not unique considering the “dramatic escalation in health care costs and the federal mandate to add children up to age 26” and have caused financial difficulties in both the public and private sectors, Evans said. He urged council members and commissioners work together to come up with “serious” solutions, contending the options looked at by the council do not meet sufficient criteria.

“My door is always opens to any Council member who wants to discuss a serious proposal that is fair, based in fact, and will provide quantifiable results,” he said.

Evans asserted the board of commissioners has the sole authority over amendments to the county’s health plan and not the council which must be accountable for providing funding for the plan.

Biggs said he agrees with Evans on the fact that health insurance is a staggering challenge to the county and that cooperation between the two boards is essential, but added if Evans “is serious about getting serious,” these discussions “should have taken place months ago.”

 

Posted 6/6/2012