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By David Camphouse
At a special county board meeting held Monday, Aug. 30, to consider competing bids for the county employee group health insurance plan, board members ultimately stuck with the current provider, the Hope Trust.
The review of bids did not go as planned, however, as the county failed to provide an accurate census of employees potentially covered by the plan to the insurance providers bidding on the contract.
“We have a problem,” Board Chairman Jim Sheppard said near the beginning of the meeting. “The census provided is short 11 individuals.”
The eleven individuals, even though they are currently covered by their spouses’ insurance plans, could potentially opt in to the county’s new plan and skew the numbers provided in the bids.
“Should the census change significantly, we are back to square one,” Sheppard said, indicating that the uncertainty in the numbers to be enrolled in the health insurance plan would render the bids to be reviewed by the board inaccurate, and therefore useless.
Board member Derek Ross, who has long advocated for putting the health insurance plan out for bid, implored the board to hear the bids, even though they might not be completely accurate because of the inaccuracy of the census.
“I would like to have the numbers presented as is,” Ross said.
Sheppard quickly moved to shoot down Ross’s request, citing the fact that the county is contractually obligated to notify the Hope Trust of non-renewal in writing 120 days prior to the end of the calendar year. That deadline, Sheppard said, is Thursday, and he didn’t believe any insurance provider could provide a bid within those time constraints.
“That would be a waste of time,” Sheppard said. “I would entertain a motion to approve to approve the Hope Trust for 2022, since that’s our only option.”
Ross again argued that the bids should be discussed, because he wanted to make the point that the county could realize significant cost savings under another health insurance plan.
“I don’t see the logic in not looking at the numbers,” Ross said. “We received a bid $100,000 lower than our current plan, which is scheduled to increase by $200,000 next year. That’s a $300,000 spread. I don’t want to miss out on saving county employees and tax payers money, because of a technicality.”
Broker Dennis Lister, who was present at the meeting to present the bid cited by Ross from Blue Cross, said that he believed that the bid would remain very close to what was quoted, even with the census error.
“I’m not going to sit here and bluff you, but I think these numbers are pretty close to sticking,” Lister said.
Lister did add, however, that Blue Cross would not guarantee the quote for the 120 days required by the Hope Trust.
“Is the 120 days etched in stone,” Lister asked. “That’s pretty rough.”
According to Ross, an industry standard for notifying an insurance provider of non-renewal is 60 days.
Jason Boothe, representing the Hope Trust, indicated that if the board gave less than 120 days notice of non-renewal, the county would potentially be in breach of its intergovernmental agreement with the Hope Trust and could be subject to litigation.
Ultimately, board member Rodger Hannel made a motion to renew the county’s group health insurance plan with the Hope Trust.
“It seems like we’re trying to rush this thing,” Hannel said of attempting to gather additional quotes prior to the Thursday deadline. “County employees seem very satisfied with their plans. It’s a trust thing we have. Rather than rush it, I’m of the opinion we stick with the Hope Trust. I would make a motion that we approve the Hope Trust for this next year.”
Mark Mountain seconded the motion, and the Hope Trust was approved, with only Ross and Amy Gates casting dissenting votes.
During discussion prior to the vote, Ross argued that alternatives to the Hope Trust need to be explored further prior to next year’s renewal process.
“We tried this last year and didn’t get anywhere,” Ross said. “The reason I wanted to do this is to find out how out of whack the rates are, and we found out that there are significant savings to be had. We need to do our due diligence and look at the numbers on the table. We’ve seen a $200,000 increase from the Hope Trust two years in a row.”
After the vote to approve the Hope Trust renewal, board member Tom Lewis sided with Ross’s desire to seek competing bids next year.
“I do agree with you, Derek, that we need to examine the numbers, and we need to start much earlier next year,” Lewis said.
Following the health insurance discussion and vote, Ross asked that the county’s property/casualty insurance plan be put out for bid.
Sheppard said that the topic couldn’t be voted on at Monday’s meeting, but that it would be placed on the regular September board meeting agenda.
The September board meeting will be held Monday, Sept. 27. The board will also hold a budget hearing Sept. 16.