County settles on higher health insurance rates; discount fo

Apr 1, 2014 By Eric Blom, Staff Writer

Fremont County employees can get a break on higher health insurance costs if they choose a high-deductible policy and participate in the county's wellness plan. Otherwise, their rates are going up.

The cost of the program is set to increase by $530,000, or 8.6 percent, from $6.2 million to $6.7 million next year, according to projections from the Fremont County Treasurer's Office. The jump is about half of this year's $950,000, or 18 percent, rise over last year's $5.2 million.

The new rates were finalized in March by the Fremont County Commission.

In February, the commission approved increasing incentives for the county's wellness program and adding the option of a high-deductible plan in addition to the standard plan.

Employees are expected to cover 19 percent of the total cost altogether, and the general fund, other boards and offline districts would cover the rest.

The portion of their health insurance individual employees pay depends on the plan they choose and whether they receive a wellness program rebate.

All employees who want the same coverage in the coming year and choose the standard plan are to see their premiums rise. Some would see an overall drop in the price they pay by participating in the wellness program, but some plans still would be more expensive.

Those choosing the new high-deductible plan all would pay less out of pocket every month, and if people on the high-risks plans also participate in the wellness program, most would pay nothing for their coverage.

Up 15 percent

Commissioners adopted rates recommended by the executive health committee, a group of county employees tasked with advising the commission the health benefit plan. For comparison, premiums for all the plans this increased 15 percent over last year.

Employee premiums for a standard plan, the coverage offered now, are to be 58 percent to 68 percent more expensive depending on whether they have an individual, individual plus dependents, two adults or family plans.

If employees qualify for the maximum rebate by participating in the county's wellness program, the cost for standard individual and two-adult plans would be 20 percent and 13 percent lower respectively compared to this year's rates.

Those qualifying for the maximum incentive and choosing individual-plus-dependents or family plans would still pay 18 percent or 9 percent more respectively than they pay this year.

Employees who select a deductible plan would pay 46 percent to 56 percent less than they pay now for standard coverage depending on the specific plan they choose. If they also qualify for the maximum wellness program rebate, they would end up paying $0 for their coverage unless they had a single-plus dependents plan. Those people would pay $72 a year.

'Sticker shock'

Commissioner Stephanie Kessler was concerned the rate increases might surprise employees.

"The initial sticker shock may be significant if they look at those costs before the opportunities for the incentives," she said.

Deputy county clerk Margie Irvine said she and Jim Massman, deputy county treasurer, have had meetings with employees in several departments about the changes to the health benefit plan and sent out information in newsletters. Both officials are on the executive health committee.

They were concerned they would not be able to reach some employees.

"I'm guessing when all is said and done, we might reach 50 percent of those employees in those meetings," Massman said.

The county board voted to require all departments to hold a meeting with the health committee members.

Wellness clarification

Comments from some in the audience at the March meeting at which the new system was unveiled revealed some confusion surrounding the changes in the health benefit plan.

Buildings maintenance supervisor J.R. Oakley was concerned employees would not be able to receive a major part of the wellness program incentive and, accordingly, the increased premiums would hit them harder than the commission anticipated.

"None of my people have met the (body mass index) since sixth grade, and that'll be a 50 dollars a month max that they'll be able to obtain, and that has them concerned," he said, referring to a provision in the wellness program.

Adults covered by the county's health plan can receive a maximum $100 a month discount. Half of that is for meeting the BMI benchmark once a year or following a plan to address their BMI, which is used to identify obesity.

But commissioner Keja Whiteman explained individuals can still receive the BMI discount if they do not meet the BMI benchmark.

"As long as you're making an effort and you're making a plan, you can qualify for the incentive," she said.

Kessler and Whiteman suggested the executive health committee produce a timeline of important dates related to the health benefit plan and wellness program.

Kessler also asked to review informational documents the group was distributing.

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