Commission weighs employee benefits in quest for savings
County government employees, who have health insurance benefits through the county, are facing a doubling of their deductible with Mountain State Blue Cross Blue Shield.
The change, which takes effect in June, is an effort by county officials to offset an expected 9% increase in insurance premiums and balance a reduced
county budget, expected to come in at $4.37 million this year.
The Morgan County Commissioners decided to double the health insurance deductible to $1,000 for individuals and $2,000 for families at their March 11 meeting.
The decision came after talking about insurance options with Smith Nadenbousch agent Vernon Brinegar and Blue Cross Blue Shield account executive Tracy Hedrick.
The commissioners had asked Brinegar to seek other quotes for the county’s group health insurance in an effort to find possible cost savings.
Brinegar said he received no competitive quotes from other companies. Instead, he and Hedrick suggested several ways to reduce the cost of insurance – by raising the amount employees would pay out of pocket for their health care or by reducing their health coverage.
Hedrick described Morgan County’s policy as “pretty rich” compared with other group policies that had much higher deductibles or less coverage.
Brinegar said the county’s insurance track record of claims over the last nine years has been good, but might not stay that way.
“You’re just one heart attack or cancer patient away from having a bad year,” he said.
Hedrick said Morgan County’s health premiums hadn’t gone up nearly as quickly as they could have in the last decade, primarily because of Blue Cross Blue Shield’s ability to pay only a percentage of each claim.
Last year, Morgan County employees filed $516,000 in claims, but Blue Cross Blue Shield only paid out $254,000 to care providers for those services, because they negotiate a discount.
“They are the largest insurer in the state and they have the bargaining power,” Brinegar said.
Morgan County has purchased their group insurance through Blue Cross Blue Shield since 1994.
The increased deductible means there will be virtually no increase in monthly premiums in the next budget year, Brinegar said.
Pay raise in the balance
The Morgan County Commissioners are also weighing their options when it comes to an annual raise for the county’s 80 employees.
A disagreement about the pay hike ended in a stalemate at their March 11 meeting.
Commission President Brenda Hutchinson proposed giving workers a 1.5% raise. Commissioner Tommy Swaim is seeking a 3% raise for employees, and Commissioner Stacy Dugan didn’t support any raise for county employees at all.
“We have an unknown with the courthouse expenses. People out in the community are not getting raises, they’re losing their jobs and going into foreclosure,” Dugan said.
She also argued that any raise in the coming budget year would raise payroll for future years as well.
“I’ve been here 12 years and we’ve never done less than a 3% raise. We’ve got dedicated employees who are dependable and work hard,” said Swaim.
He said the annual raise he was supporting would cost the county $18,000 more than Hutchinson’s proposal.
Hutchinson noted that all county employees are slated to receive an extra paycheck in the new budget year, because the year will have 27 instead of 26 pay periods. That extra pay could cost the county up to $80,000.
“I don’t understand how the 27th pay period has anything to do with this. It’s just what happens every few years – I don’t think it should be figured in as a raise,” Swaim said.
“I’m not willing to concede right now,” Swaim said as the raise decision remained unresolved.
“Either of you can move it from a stalemate,” he said to Dugan and Hutchinson.
The commissioners agreed to take up the question at their next meeting on Thursday, March 25, when they have to approve the county budget. The budget has to be submitted to the state by March 28.
“I’m not going to change my mind between now and then,” said Hutchinson.
Tax rate won’t rise
The commissioners did agree to build their budget on a levy rate slightly below the current tax rate.
They will proceed to fix their budget with a rate that would tax owner-occupied homes at 24.26 cents per $100 of assessed value. Last year, homeowners paid 24.3 cents per $100 assessed value.
Final figures about the county’s revenue and expenditures won’t be available until officials sign off on their budget on March 25.
The commissioners will officially set their levy rate on April 20, according to state law.