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New insurance plan expected to save county close to $900K

POSTED: August 29, 2011 7:13 p.m.

County commissioners have approved a new insurance package for Effingham County employees, and it’s expected to save the county just under $1 million.

Commissioners, by a 5-0 vote, selected United Healthcare to become the county’s newest carrier for major medical insurance. Under the proposal, the county will spend around $900,000 less on coverage for its employees than its current plan.

“I feel we saved the county a significant amount of money, and that’s a good thing,” said Larry Hadden, the county’s agent of record who helped put the different proposals together for commissioners. “It’s a major impact on the taxpayers.”

Commissioners said their chief goal was to find a much cheaper insurance package from the current $4.06 million insurance plan.

“It doesn’t affect the employees much, if any,” said Commissioner Steve Mason. “Thecoverage is basically the same. It gives them the option to buy up exactly to what we had before and save the county about a million dollars.”

Keeping the plans close to the current coverage, in offerings and price to the employees, also was a consideration to commissioners.

“I don’t want to make a major change where it’s going to be a significant impact on our employees,” Mason said. “And I don’t think we are.”

Commissioners held a workshop after their last regular meeting Aug. 16 to discuss insurance, and quotes from companies continued to drop as commissioners weighed the proposals.

The lowest quote from Blue Cross/Blue Shield and United had the second-lowest. Cigna was third, and United went from third-lowest to second-lowest with a revised quote.

United was rated as having the best network and J.D. Power and Company, a consulting firm that surveys customer satisfaction and product quality, rated United Healthcare as the No. 1 health insurance carrier. Cigna and United also share the state employee coverage with United.

County Administrator David Crawley said 90 percent of the state employees who opt for the state’s insurance coverage choose United’s plans.

“You can’t make a bad call here,” Hadden said, adding he did not have a preference among the three final bidders. “All three are excellent carriers.”

Commissioners also worried beyond the price of the packages — they noted some problems with claims filed with one of the carriers and also if those prices would not be significantly increased in the near future.

“We need to know which one is going to stay with us in the long haul,” said Commissioner Phil Kieffer, “and not increase every year.”

Said Commissioner Bob Brantley: “I want to save the county as much money as we can. But I don’t want to have a problem in three years.”

Guardian, the county’s existing major medical insurance carrier, is getting out of health insurance, Crawley told commissioners. Hadden said he had his best results on claims history with Guardian.

Hadden also said each company had large networks of doctors and hospitals, so it was likely employees wouldn’t have to go out of network for medical care.

Crawley said United would keep the premiums for such packages as employee-family the same as the current premiums.

The county’s wellness program, Crawley said, has cut down on the number of medical insurance claims filed. Both Cigna and United proposed wellness programs as part of their quote while Blue Cross/Blue Shield allowed for the county to apply for grants to go toward wellness programs.

Crawley said county staff figured the value of the wellness programs from Cigna and United to be from $75,000-$100,000 each year. He also said United has a very strong wellness program.

“If you have a wellness program and you use it, you’re saving yourself and the insurance company a lot of money down the road,” Brantley said.

United also takes its wellness program one step further, Hadden said, with biometric screenings that measure such things as blood pressure and blood sugar levels. If the employee also fills out an online survey, they get a $75 gift card and ultimately, employees can get up to $175 in gift cards for taking the screenings and online surveys.

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