Polk switches to state employee health plan for $271K minimum savings

Published 8:53 pm Tuesday, January 19, 2016

By Leah Justice



Polk County government caught a small window of opportunity to be included in the state employee health plan for teachers and state employees, which will save the county at least $271,128 next fiscal year.

The Polk County Board of Commissioners met Jan. 11 and approved joining the state employee health plan and authorized County Manager Marche Pittman to sign any necessary paperwork.

The county will join the plan on March 1.

Session Law 2015-112 became law on June 24, 2015 and allowed local governments to enroll in the state employee health plan. Stipulations were that the local government must have less than 1,000 employees and the window to join the program would stop after 10,000 total local government employees across the state had enrolled.

Pittman said Polk County pursued legislation to allow this to happen and asked for legislation to be included in the last legislative session. The county worked with state legislators to get a bill so Polk County could enroll in the program.

Polk County used to be self-funded for health insurance but for the past two years has gone through Mark III for its benefits.

Pittman said the county knew an increase in benefits was coming for the new fiscal year and that increase could have been 15-25 percent beginning July 1.

“Even if we just had a four percent increase, we’re still saving at least $250,000,” Pittman said. “Depending on the rate increase, we’re looking at a savings range from $250,000-$370,000 that taxpayers won’t have to pay.”

Pittman said when he realized there was an opportunity to join the state healthcare plan, he started reaching out to N.C. Senator Ralph Hise and N.C. Rep. Chris Whitmire. Pittman said the bill was clear that only 10,000 covered lives could join the plan and once that 10,000 was met no one else could join. He said Polk County got accepted in the program right before the cap was hit.

Polk County pays 100 percent of its full time employee benefits.

Currently, prior to any July 1, 2016 increases, Polk County pays $604 per month per covered life (employee with benefits). The county currently pays benefits for 158 employees. The total amount per month Polk currently pays is $95,432 per month, or $1,145,184 per year.

A four percent increase would have meant beginning on July 1, Polk County would have paid $1,190,991 per year for employee benefits.

The state employee health plan cost $461 per covered life, which will cost the county $72,838 per month, or $874,056 per year.

With a four percent increase through the county’s current insurance, the savings to the county by going with the state employee health plan will be $316,935 next fiscal year.

Pittman said the health plans will be similar for employees. The county is currently on a 70/30 plan and the state employee health plan is also a 70/30 plan. Pittman said some of the benefits with the state plan are that employees will have more options to “buy up” with the state plan, and the “buy up” is less with the state plan than the current plan.

Pittman said he believes the state plan includes a $1,000 deductible for participants in health insurance.

County commissioners previously approved a memorandum of understanding (MOU) in order to be eligible to participate in the state plan. The MOU states the state health plan for teachers and state employees is a division of the Department of State Treasurer.