Commissioners discuss benefits, then ask for revised bids
by PHILLIP WILLIAMS
Aug 18, 2013 | 991 views | 0 0 comments | 7 7 recommendations | email to a friend | print
During a more than 4-hour meeting at which potential changes in county workers’ benefits were discussed at length, the Upshur County Commissioners Court voted 3-1 Thursday to have the two bidders on administrating its employee health insurance program revise and submit final bids.

The court acted after hearing a presentation from two firms who jointly submitted one bid—The R. Brown Co. of Gilmer and HealthFirst, a Tyler firm which is a subsidiary of the East Texas Medical Center system of Tyler.

The county’s current third-party insurance administrator, Group and Pension Administrators of Dallas, is the other bidder, and its representatives had met with the court recently.

Some county employees and officials also expressed concern to the court about the idea of altering benefits. Under consideration in formulating the forthcoming 2013-2014 budget are what to do about costs for not only insurance, but contributions toward employee retirement as well.

County Judge Dean Fowler said the court is considering raising an employee’s health insurance deductible from the current $500 to between $1,000 and $1,500, a move he said could save the county $200,000.

He said that would affect very few employees, since only 30 of 375 persons on the county’s insurance plan reached the $500 deductible this past year.

“(There probably has) got to be some adjustments. . . We can’t pay for it (current benefits) any more,” Fowler said. He said many of the county’s financial problems have been caused by insurance costs, which he said constitute about $2 million yearly out of a $14 million budget.

Pct. 3 Comm. Frank Berka pointed out the county will go about $250,000 over its budget for medical claims during the current fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30.

Pct. 1 Comm. Paula Gentry said she had contacted county workers “to see what would hurt them the most,” and that employees told her co-paying $10 more for a doctor visit would be easier than having the deductible hiked to $1,000.

Mrs. Gentry,a former longtime county employee before becoming a commissioner last January, said there must be “some changes” in the insurance benefits, and that workers need to use them “wisely, and not abuse them” with unnecessary emergency room visits.

She faulted herself for not using a mail-in prescription program because she didn’t like the paperwork.

District Clerk Carolyn Parrott protested raising the deductible, saying she had some employees who couldn’t afford medical procedures with the current $500 one. She said that was why only 30 workers had met the current deductible.

Raising the deductible will result in more employees ending up in the emergency room, and “in the long run, they’re going to be in worse shape” financially, Mrs. Parrott argued.

Earlier, some employees of the Road and Bridge Department addressed the court about the issue of medical benefits. One, Terry Leavelle, said R&B workers “don’t make that much to begin with,” stay with the county for the benefits, and can’t afford a larger deductible.

He said many county employees are concerned about potential cuts in benefits, and some are threatening to walk out. Some workers don’t even have the $25 co-pay now needed for a doctor visit, he said.

Leavelle also told commissioners employees believe “sometimes, they’re not getting a voice from you.” As Mrs. Gentry had earlier, Pct. 2 Comm. Cole Hefner invited employees to call court members.

Miriam Hill of The R. Brown Co., a Gilmer insurance agency, told the court many of the insurance cost problems being addressed could be solved by agents educating county workers about benefits.

The court voted, with Hefner opposing, to have the two bidders for insurance administrator resubmit final, best bids—a move suggested by one of the represenatives of HealthFirst, Kevin Hall, who said the bids were close.

Pct. 4 Comm. Mike Spencer joined Berka and Mrs. Gentry in approving the motion.

Hefner asked whether having the bids resubmitted was “unfair” to the Dallas firm, since its bid was lower than Brown’s. But Spencer replied that the Brown firm’s bid was lower in one area while Group and Pension Administators was lower in another, so “let’s have another shot at it.”
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