Commissioners move to end health benefit plan for county retirees

Mar 5, 2014 By Eric Blom Staff Writer

Fremont County commissioners voted Feb. 4 to stop offering the health benefit plan to retirees at the end of the calendar year.

The decision ran against a recommendation from the Executive Health Committee, an employee group tasked with advising the county board on health insurance.

"We believe that any change will be viewed negatively by current retirees and those close to retirement," the committee stated in a memorandum.

Commission chairman Doug Thompson said in an interview that financial concerns and the availability of cheaper equivalent health insurance options for retirees played into the county board's decision.

Eligible retirees

For at least the past 20 years, people who worked for Fremont County for at least 10 years were able to stay on the health benefit plan after they retired. Retirees pay for the whole cost of their coverage, and 22 former employees are on the plan. Those retirees eligible for Medicare use the county plan to supplement the federal program.

The Executive Health Committee reported that most retirees can buy a private Medicare supplemental policy for less money.

Under the health benefit plan, the county pays into a pot of money a certain amount for each employee who wants coverage, and employees contribute a smaller portion as well. After deductibles, co-pays and out-of-pocket limits are met, that pot of money pays the medical bills of covered individuals, just like standard health insurance.

Recent changes

"I don't think it's going to hurt the retirees at all; I think they'll be better off," deputy county treasurer Jim Massman said in an interview.

Still, he and the rest of the Executive Health Committee recommended against the switch because they thought employees would not be happy with it.

"It was our view, this was a no-win situation for the county, and the board of county commissioners" he said.

He thinks retirees stick with the county plan despite the expense because they trust it, have been on it for years and think it is easier to work with than a private insurance company, Massman said. Also, until the Affordable Care Act, people with pre-existing conditions would have been charged much higher rates by a private insurer, he said.

By Feb. 18, the commission had received two letters raising concerns about the move.

"The insurance marketplace is overwhelming and confusing," former county employee Juanita Virden, of Riverton, stated in one letter. "It seems to me that if indeed you must remove the retirees from the insured pool then working with us to offer some options and guidance would be very much appreciated."

County information systems support systems supervisor Joni Miller, in a letter, argued it would be fairer to start the policy of not offering retirees insurance with new hires rather than with current employees.

"This is something a lot of us have worked numerous years to have when we retire to have until Medicare," she stated.

Two retirees on the county plan are not eligible for Medicare, Massman said. They would not necessarily have an option cheaper than the county plan available to them.

Commissioner Travis Becker made a motion Feb. 4 to discontinue offering the health benefit plan to retirees and commissioner Stephanie Kessler seconded it.

Only commission vice chairwoman Keja Whiteman voted against the measure.

Massman reported Feb. 4 to commissioners that in the past two years, claims county retirees made exceeded the contributions they made to the pool. Their claims already are higher this year than what the county expects to take in from their contributions, he said.

In an interview, Thompson said the county might do some research into private options for retirees in order to ease their transition off the county plan.

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