The Washington Times-Herald

November 27, 2013

County changes health insurance

Mike Grant Times Herald
The Washington Times-Herald

---- — The Daviess County Commissioners have made a number of changes to its health insurance in hopes of keeping costs under control. The commissioners approved a plan that will put the base of their self-insured health care program at $1.4 million. The amount is higher than officials had originally anticipated but lower than what they had feared.

“Our original estimate for our health care insurance was right at a million dollars,” said President of the Daviess County Commissioners Tony Wichman.

One of the biggest impacts on the health insurance are some of the new provisions of the Affordable Health Care Act. “That hit us with a 15 percent surcharge right off the bat,” said Wichman.

Those federal regulations also have produced some changes in the coverage. Those include additions to the prescription plan to cover birth control, tobacco cessation, and some over the counter drugs without co-pays. Other changes eliminate the exception for pre-existing conditions and lifetime limits.

The county was also put into the position under the Defense of Marriage Act to define what constitutes a spouse. “We are taking no stand on this,” said Commissioner Michael Taylor. “We are going to follow what the state defines as a spouse.”

With the rising costs and coverages the county has decided to make some further changes to try and keep costs under control. The county is expanding its pre-certification program to include cancer treatments and transplants and has added a wellness program that can impact the deductible for employees and their families.

“We need to get the employees to buy in to this and to make an effort to help control our costs,” said Wichman.

The plan is to hold a health screening for employees and their spouses that are on the county plan on Jan. 7. Those who participate will continue to maintain their current deductibles. Those who do not will have their deductible doubled. To try and get as much participation as possible the county will also be accepting screenings done by family physicians either 60 days before or 60 days after the health screening event. The plan is to be as flexible as possible for the employees to get as maximum participation.

“This is about finding potential problems early,” said Wichman. “A check that finds and begins treatment for high blood pressure is a lot better than dealing with a stroke.”

Because the Daviess County plan is self-insured, the county also has contract with a re-insurance firm that covers the costs that can be created by a handful of health related disasters. To try and save some money on those costs the county increased its deductible from $60,000 to $75,000 for any four employees. “That’s a bit of a gamble, but it will lower the fixed cost,” said Taylor.

One spot where employees will feel a pinch on their wallets under the health insurance changes will be the amount they pay for dependent care. That will increase by three percent. “That will add about $20 a month for the employees on the county plan and put about $7,800 back in to help pay for it,” said Taylor.

One thing that won’t change is the basic health insurance perk for county employees. “They pay one dollar a year for health insurance and we pick up the rest of the cost,” said Wichman. “We have great employees and this is great benefit and a rare perk these days.”

That rare perk means the county has 297 employees on its plan, and as costs for health care and insurance rise officials are left with a balancing act between doing what is good for those who do the county’s business and the taxpayers who foot the bill.

“One point, four million dollars is a pretty scary number,” said Wichman. “We are hoping the changes will help keep our costs down, lower our premiums and help protect the taxpayers.”