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County's health options include high-deductible

Feb 21, 2014 - By Eric Blom, Staff Writer

The spiraling cost of its health benefit plan has led Fremont County to make big changes to the program, including adding a high-deductible health plan to its offerings in 2015. Fremont County Commissioners approved the measure Feb. 4.

The high-deductible plan is optional.

The county board thought the plan would allow employees to take more money home, and it also could save the county money. The new plan would be an alternative to the standard health plan the count has offered, and employees could choose either.

The change follows a decision to double the county wellness program's monetary incentive for people to be healthier in an attempt to lower the health plan's costs.

The high-deductible plan is designed to cost less for employees month to month, but it does involves more risk.

"The entire savings of going from the regular plan to the high-deductible health plan goes to the employee," deputy county treasurer Jim Massman told the Fremont County Commission this month. "The county pays the same, but the employee saves money on the front end. But if they have claims they'll pay for on the back end."

Employees with individual high-deductible plans would save about $140 a month versus choosing the standard plan, according to an estimate from a group of county employees tasked with advising commissioners on health benefit plan issues, the Executive Health Committee. Those with family plans could save $379 per month.

The county would pay the same for an employee's coverage whether that person chooses a standard or high-deductible plan.

The high-deductible plan would be the only option for employees who do not undergo a health screening blood and health risk assessment survey. Those tests would be required to receive the standard plan in 2015, and undergoing them makes an employee eligible for the county's beefed up wellness program also approved Feb. 4. Employees would not have to pass the tests to receive the standard plan or the wellness incentive.

A health insurance consultant for the county estimated 33 percent of employees would opt for the high-deductible plan and as a result, the county would save about 3 percent in payments on claims, Massman said at a Feb. 11 meeting.

"With the high-deductible plan, the employee pays the first $2,500 instead of the first $800 there's so going to be some savings," Massman said in an interview. "There's going to be a few people who choose the high-deductible plan who have claims higher than $800."

Rates are not set, but after the health incentive, employees on the high-deductible plan and receiving the new incentive could pay almost nothing out of pocket for the coverage, according to a recommendation from the executive health committee presented Feb. 11.

Commissioners liked the idea.

"I agree with this... young folks are going to jump on this plan. They're going to be banking money in essence," Commissioner Travis Becker said.

The added risk comes in the way of a higher deductible and a higher total out-of-pocket limit.

Employees choosing the high-deductible plan would not have any help with their doctor bills unless they have a major medical expense. Even after the deductible is met, they would pay 20 percent of their bills until they meet their out-of-pocket limit.

The deductible for the new plan for individuals is $2,500 and for families it is $5,000. Fremont County's standard health plan has had a deductible for individuals of $800 and $1,600 for families.

The maximum out-of-pocket expenses for the high-deductible plan are $6,250 for individuals and $12,500 for families. Under the standard plan, the maximum is $5,800 for individuals and $9,100 for families.

Commissioners unanimously approved the high-deductible plan Feb. 4, but it will not be available until Jan. 1. Rates employees would pay for the standard and high-deductible plan have not been set.

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