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County looks to cut health care costs

Feb 1, 2012 - By Martin Reed Staff Writer

The Fremont County Commission is enlisting the services of a company to evaluate and enact possible cost-saving changes to its employee health insurance plan.

After discussions late last year, commissioners have voted to hire Baltimore-based Cobecon to review aspects of the county government's health insurance plan.

The action is contingent upon successful completion of negotiations for a contract between the county and the company that will help with health benefits and brokerage services for the employee insurance program.

The county is continuing to use Employee Benefit Management Services Inc. to oversee its health plan.

Costs climbing

The commission's decision is part of ongoing concerns about rising costs of the insurance program, which is seeing total revenues in the latest fiscal year budget of $5.75 million, compared to $5 million in the previous year.

During discussions at the meeting, commissioners questioned the plan's future in regard to overall employee compensation.

At a meeting in December, commission vice chairman Pat Hickerson cited ongoing concerns about the county's financial situation in the coming years and how that could affect revenues for government.

"I have some big concerns about next year's budget. A lot of it's tied to the federal money," specifically the payment in lieu of taxes known as PILT funding, Hickerson said.

He said the county would be in trouble if it lost PILT funding, because it doesn't have enough reserves without dipping into the county's roughly $7 million savings gained from the sale of hospital properties.

Change benefits?

Hickerson voiced ideas about reducing health coverage costs by potentially making the insurance more of a "catastrophic plan."

"If you're going to reduce the cost you're going to have to reduce the amount and cost of things," Hickerson said, citing a potential reduction in coverage.

He suggested other changes, including making the health insurance plan fairer in regard to compensation between employees who have plans for just themselves and those covering their entire family.

"Cobecon I think will help," he said. "It will help us focus on the best way to achieve those things."

Commission chairman Doug Thompson also agreed with pursuing Cobecon's services to help with the health plan.

"We can get more options with them that can reduce cost and provide better services," Thompson said. "What I want to do is be able to reduce costs and provide the level of service we have right now."

Employee panel

Commissioner Travis Becker said the county government's executive health committee, a group of employees who help create the insurance plan, is valuable but could use some help.

"It's too much to expect them to keep up with it," Becker said of changing laws pertaining to health insurance.

"I'm in favor of giving (Cobecon) a shot," he said. "We need an expert helping us out."

Hickerson noted the need for ongoing discussions about the health insurance plan.

"I think the commissioners do need to sit down and decide what our goals will be. Where do we want to be in the next three to five years?" he said.

Chief deputy county clerk Margy Irvine urged the commission to provide Cobecon with direction on possible changes to the insurance plan.

"My only concern is if we don't give Cobecon a true direction of what you want," Irvine said. "It's going to be a waste of money if you don't give them a strong direction."

Uncertainty about the county's health insurance plan is causing concern among employees.

"We have lost four more healthy families because they have concerns about what direction the plan is going," Irvine said.

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