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New county employee health insurance would bring minimum savings

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By JEFF SCHULTZ

Porter County employees may soon have fewer options on what health plan to choose from, but a new option being considered by the Board of County Commissioners may bring them and the County some savings.

But the results will probably not free the County entirely from its struggles to overcome stiff hikes in employee insurance costs.

On Wednesday, Leigh Westergren, the employee benefits specialist with the County’s servicing agent Anton Insurance, laid out details of two plans that were met with positive comments from the committee formed a few months ago to search for affordable health insurance packages that would meet the needs of employees.

One plan would see a rise in deductibles compared to what the County has in place now. Annual deductibles for singles would increase from $300 to $500 and families on the proposed plan would see an increase from $700 to $1,000.

However, the premiums will stay the same which was one of the committee’s objectives, Westergren said. Monthly premiums are $75 for singles and $175 for county employees with families.

The second proposed plan is like the one presented to the Commissioners in August where employees would have the option of paying into a health savings account or HSA which they can hold on to year after year. “If you don’t use it, it’s still your money,” Westergren said.

This plan would call for a $1,250 deductible for singles and a $2,500 deductible for families. Westergren said that would be the most employees would have to pay out of their own pockets.

Premiums in this plan would also bring a monthly savings of $50 for those currently in the county’s plan.

If every employee signed on to the HSA plan with the higher deductibles, the County could save up to 15 percent on insurance costs. Westergren said the deductibles are similar to what employers typically offer.

Another change the proposal brings is a slight change in co-pays for medication costs. Co-pays will be increased from $5 to $10 which would bring the County some savings.

Both plans would be administered by third-party insurance provider Stewart C. Miller, the same employee benefits firm the County uses now.

Enacting these types of plans would also benefit employees in the sense that they would not be taxed for lower deductibles, which is known to happen in what are known as “Cadillac plans,” Westergren said.

County Commissioner President John Evans, R-North, said employees deserve quality health insurance coverage as an added compensation for the little pay they receive. The savings will bring them some relief, he said, since it has been years since they have received pay raises.

The board took the committee’s recommendation under advisement and expects to take a vote at its next meeting on Nov. 20. Evans said he would like to have the plans made available as soon as possible so open enrollment can begin.

The County presently offers four different health care options with 83 percent of employees on one plan alone. Evans said additional savings will be seen with having only two options because the administration costs would not be as high.

Employee handbook

to be retooled

Earlier at the start of the meeting, Evans announced the Commissioners will make a “head-to-toe” redo of the county employee policy handbook by the end of this year and asked that employees communicate whatever suggestions they may have to the Commissioners throughout November.

“Any problems with the policy manual whether they are good, bad or indifferent, please address them by the end of the month,” Evans said. He does not foresee any major shifts in policies but said tightening some loose ends is needed.

The new handbook will debut in January.

Budget still raising questions

Also on Wednesday, Evans read aloud comments made by Umbaugh & Associates saying the final 2013 budget that was approved 4-3 by the County Council on Oct. 15 has not been made available to the public on the state’s Gateway system.

The Gateway system is where government units are to submit their financial forms.

The statement by Umbaugh said the budget contained many reductions, primarily in the County Commissioners budget without specifically identifying what line items had been cut.

“Based on the challenges faced by the Council in putting together 2013 and 2012 budgets, these reductions will hamstring the Council’s ability to perform its duty as the fiscal body of the county,” the Umbaugh statement said.

Evans further commented he has had no communication with the auditor or the Council members who came up with the budget.

One of those Council members, Jim Biggs, R-1st, later told the Tribune the Council “took a very cautious approach” toward creating the 2013 budget and while the approach may not have been the most popular, those members contend it was the most responsible given the challenges with recurring costs.

Council member Jeremy Rivas, D-2nd, said he surmises the Council will have to do more cutting throughout next year in setting the 2014 budget.

“It’s not going to be easy. We know we are going to have do more with less,” said Rivas.

 

 

Posted 11/9/2012