DOBSON — County employees will soon see lower health insurance costs. Additionally, county taxpayers will save nearly $1 million annually, according to a consultant.
At a special meeting Tuesday, the Surry County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to opt into the state health insurance plan. The change in health coverage could come as early as Feb. 1.
Currently, the county is self-insured, meaning that while it uses the network of Primary Physicians Care, medical costs for employees are paid directly from the county coffers. Primary Physicians Care also adjudicates the county’s medical claims, and the county also maintains stop-loss insurance for any large medical bills that might arise.
Annual healthcare costs for the county are about $3.3 million. Once the county is on the state health plan, Scott Simpson, from McNeary Insurance Strategy and Solutions, said the county will see its costs drop to about $2.4 million.
Simpson said county employees will also see considerable savings with the new health insurance option. A single employee covered under the plan would see his or her monthly premium drop from more than $83 to about $45, according to a study completed by Simpson. If an employee participates in the county’s wellness program his or her premium could be as low as $25.
According to Simpson participation in the county’s current healthcare plan among families is hindered by high premium costs. Simpson said those premiums would drop from $762.55 to $535 under the state plan. Additional savings for families could be had through participation in the wellness program.
Assistant County Manager Sandra Snow said the state legislature recently voted to open the state health insurance plan to local governments. Only local governments with less than 1,000 employees may participate, and the number of subscribers to the state plan from local governments is capped at 10,000, according to Snow.
Snow said earlier legislation had already allowed about 2,000 local government subscribers. Therefore, Surry County was in a race against any other locality for the 8,000 or so remaining slots.
Board Chairman R.F. “Buck” Golding commended county staff for acting quickly and appropriately after learning of the state legislature’s decision.
“I’d like to thank the staff for jumping all over this,” said Golding, as he opened the meeting. “They pulled off what is pretty much a miracle as far as the time it took (to complete the analysis of the plans) goes.”
The state plan is through Blue Cross and Blue Shield, and the McNeary staff said county employees will be able to access a larger network of healthcare providers through the larger health insurance company.
Additionally, the county’s pharmacy coverage will remain with Express Scripts. The new plan will include Walgreen’s Pharmacy, which has been a talking point for commissioners, and will have five tiers for prescription drug costs.
One outstanding question, as the county begins its transition to the state plan, is coverage for retirees under the age of 65-years-old. The state plan does not allow participation from retirees, according to Simpson. Therefore, there is no coverage option for those who retire prior to meeting the minimum Medicare eligibility age.
Simpson said a solution for the “pre-65 retirees” is in the works, but he did not elaborate.
According to Snow, after the commissioners’ affirmative vote, a memorandum of understanding with the state is all that is necessary to get the county on the state plan. Snow said she is waiting for the memorandum from state officials. However, she assured commissioners that state officials have said the county’s slot in the plan is a near certainty.
Simpson told commissioners the county will have to provide a 30-day notice to Primary Physicians Care in order to terminate its current healthcare coverage. He added that county employees will be looking at a Feb. 1 enrollment date for the new plan.
Simpson also said that his company will be providing assistance to the county throughout the entire transition to the state health insurance plan.
Snow said the county has paid McNeary $12,500 for its services, which she said include the analysis, research of the “pre-65” retiree issue and the firm’s ongoing counsel throughout the changeover process.
Andy is a staff writer at The News and can be reached at (336) 415-4698.