Health insurance costs to rise for Polk employees

Published 10:10 am Thursday, May 19, 2011

Plan to change Jan. 1, 2012
Polk County employees will see their costs for health insurance increase beginning in 2012 following a split vote by commissioners this week.
Commissioners met Monday, May 16 and voted 3-2 to increase deductibles from $500 to $1,000. Copays will also increase, but the county will still pay employee monthly premiums. The change will be effective Jan. 1, 2012.
Commissioner chair Ray Gasperson, vice-chair Renée McDermott and commissioner Cindy Walker voted for the increase and commissioners Ted Owens and Tom Pack voted against it.
The original recommendation from county manager Ryan Whitson was for deductibles to increase to $1,500 beginning July 1, the start of the budget year.
Whitson told commissioners after speaking with employees, he is willing to gamble a little bit and raise the deductibles to $1,000 and not change the policy until Jan. 1, 2012. Deductibles run from January to January, and Whitson said employees were concerned about having some or all paid on their current deductibles, then having the new policy begin mid-year at higher rates.
Walker said for health insurance, the bottom line for her has always been what is the most it can cost her so they don’t take her house.
“I don’t want to have to do this, but I understand the need to do this,” Walker said. “The most for a whole family would be about $8,000.”
Copays will also increase for employees once the plan changes. Employees currently pay $25 for regular physician visits and $35 for specialists. After the change, employees will pay $30 for regular physicians and $60 for specialists.
If the county had decided to absorb the increase, it would have meant another approximately $160,000 for the county’s self-insurance fund. Whitson said he promised last year after recommending a 20 percent increase, or approximately $170,000, that he wouldn’t return this year asking for another increase in the budget.
During citizen comments, Katharine Smith said she is concerned for employees because of the increase in deductibles. She also said another concern for her is that no matter how long employees work for Polk County, when they retire they don’t continue with county health insurance even if they have to pay some of it. She said most places where people work a number of years insurance continues after retirement.
“I would like for you to think about that,” Smith told commissioners.
Polk County is self-insured, which means the county pays for up to $35,000 in claims per employee, then a “stop-loss” insurance carrier pays the remainder.
Commissioner Pack said he has prepared a budget that allows employees’ deductibles to remain at $500 (an article on Pack’s proposal will appear in a later edition of the Bulletin).
Commissioners will discuss the fiscal year 2010-2011 budget for the final time during their next meeting, which will be held May, June 6 at the Saluda Public Library. A budget workshop is scheduled at 6 p.m. with the regular meeting at 7 p.m.
The county is currently proposing a no tax increase budget. Employees would see the increase in insurance deductibles but no salary increase. Full-time employees would, however, see their Christmas bonuses boosted to $300.
A public hearing on the budget is scheduled for June 13 at 7 p.m. at the Womack building in Columbus. The county is scheduled to adopt the budget during a regular meeting on June 20, which is scheduled at 3 p.m. at the Womack building.

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