Washington County employees wait for BlueCross BlueShield, MSHA to renew contract

Gary B. Gray • Apr 16, 2013 at 9:39 PM

Washington County officials may or may not renew its health insurance with BlueCross BlueShield, depending on when, and if, negotiations between the company and Mountain State Health Alliance are worked out.

At the county’s Cultural, Industrial and Agricultural Committee meeting on April 8, the county’s insurance broker, Tom Foster, showed up to recommend the county accept the insurance company’s bid despite the fact its contract with MSHA is set to expire May 31.

The rate BlueCross BlueShield is offering the county for fiscal year 2014 is a $93,000 increase over this year.

“It’s a little bit of a concern for our employees, because if they don’t work out a contract, employees would not have MSHA as an ‘in-network provider,’” said Michelle Stewart, the county’s benefits coordinator. “They would no longer receive a lower rate, and MSHA’s hospitals and physicians would not be included. As far as the increase, it has been going up 8- to 10-percent a year.”

Committee members decided last week that if negotiations are not settled by the end of this month, the county should send out bids in pursuit of a new provider.

On Friday, MSHA asked for a 60-day extension on its current contract with BlueCross BlueShield, but committee members don’t feel comfortable with waiting that long and consider it a gamble. Committee Chairman Mark Ferguson said it would not be right to buy insurance for county employees that has no presence in local hospitals.

As of today, the committee’s recommendation to begin putting out bids for a new provider at the end of this month stands.

“I have asked that they extend that date,” Stewart said. “We’re cautiously optimistic this will be worked out. BCBS is MSHA’s largest private insurance provider. It’s like a marriage. You have disagreements, but in the end you agree you have too much to lose if you separate.”

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