Unicoi employee insurance premiums capped

Brad Hicks • Jun 12, 2012 at 10:02 AM

A new carrier was chosen for Unicoi County employees Monday evening, and a cap was placed on the amount the county will pay toward individual employee insurance plan premiums.

At a special called meeting Monday, the Unicoi County Commission voted to have United Healthcare serve as the carrier for county employee insurance, at least for now.

Last week, the commission met in a work session to discuss county employee insurance. At that meeting, John Manfull, the county’s insurance broker, advised commissioners that if the county remained with BlueCross/BlueShield as the insurance carrier, it would face an increase of approximately 40 percent in insurance costs if the county continued to pay 100 percent of its employee insurance premiums.

At last week’s meeting, Manfull presented commissioners with three options, including United Healthcare, Humana Health Insurance, which would have been an 11.99 percent increase, and the state’s insurance plan, which would have represented a 21 percent increase over last year’s costs.

Last week, the commission conducted a survey of county employees to get their input into what they would like to see regarding employee insurance. The results of that survey showed that county employees preferred to keep insurance coverage as close to what was offered through BlueCross/BlueShield as possible.

Manfull said Monday that United Healthcare would represent an increase of 6.7 percent over last year’s costs while maintaining comparable coverage. The county needed to select its insurance carrier by July 1, the start of the new fiscal year, and Manfull said the selection of United Healthcare gives the county a “renewal plan” for the start of the new fiscal year. Commissioners asked Manfull to continue to pursue other options for county employee insurance carriers.

The monthly premium for United Healthcare individual plan premiums will be $541.51, which is an increase over the $507.70 individual plan premiums the county paid during the 2011-12 fiscal year. After voting to have United Healthcare serve as the county’s carrier, the commission discussed options to fund premium costs going forward.

Last week, the commission discussed the possibility of placing a cap on the amount the county would pay toward individual plan premiums rather than continue paying 100 percent toward these premiums. The matter was once again a topic of discuss at Monday’s meeting. Commissioner Doug Bowman made a motion that the county pay the same toward premiums as it did last year — the amount of $507.70 monthly on individual plans. It would then be up to employees to make up the difference.

However, several commissioners felt that employees already on the county’s plan should be “grandfathered in” and the county should continue to pay their premiums, while new employees should be required to pay a percentage of the premium. Commissioner Chairwoman Sue Jean Wilson said this would be a fair solution due to the lack of raises and bonuses that county employees have received over the past few years.

“I pretty much agree with that,” Commissioner Bill Hensley said. “There’s a lot of those people out here who were hired and during the interview process, as part of their benefit package, they were told we pay their health insurance. Now it seems we’re backing up on that a little bit. So I have a problem in that regard.”

However, Commissioner Loren Thomas said if the county paid the full $541.51 premium for current employees, it would represent an approximate increase of $48,000 over what the county paid last year for employee insurance premiums. Thomas said he would like to see Bowman’s suggested cap increased slightly.

Bowman’s motion was rejected by a 5-4 vote, with Wilson, Hensley, Thomas, and commissioners Mickey Hatcher and Gene Wilson voting against.

After further discussion, Hatcher proposed that the county pay $520 of the $541.51 for individual plan premiums for employees already under the county’s plan. For employees going onto the county’s insurance plan after Monday, the county would pay 90 percent of the $520 amount.

Hatcher’s motion was approved by a 6-3 vote, with Sue Jean Wilson, Hensley and Gene Wilson voting against.

The commission also unanimously approved a measure concerning the display of the Ten Commandments in the Unicoi County Courthouse. As part of the motion, the Declaration of Independence, Bill of Rights and U.S. Constitution will also be displayed in frames in the hallway of the courthouse.

The display of the items is possible due to a recently passed state law that allows for the display of “historically significant documents” at public buildings, which includes the items outlined in the motion.

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