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County keeps insurance benefits the same

Staff writer

Marion County Commission voted Friday in a special meeting to keep employee health insurance benefits as steady as possible.

The county will continue to pay the full premium for a single employee’s coverage with a $1,000 deductible, despite a 16 percent rate increase. Employees may elect to take a plan with a lower deductible and pay the difference in rates. Employees can also pay the difference in premium to have their entire family covered.

The proposal was approved, 2-1. Commissioner Randy Dallke opposed the decision. He said he wanted employees to pay for a portion of the rate increase.

Two other proposals from Blue Cross Blue Shield of Kansas were under consideration. One would have added extra preventive care benefits with no co-pay or deductible, but would have raised rates. The other proposal would have increased employees’ deductible.

“If we cover this increase, I consider that a pay raise,” Commissioner Dan Holub said.

He said he will take that into consideration when determining whether to budget raises for 2012. Not knowing how much insurance rates might increase because of federal health insurance reform, commissioners budgeted a 30 percent increase in rates this year.

“I won’t vote for a 30 percent budget increase no more,” Dallke said.

Harry Bennett of rural Marion challenged commissioners to find ways to reduce insurance costs without reducing employees’ benefits.

“You guys ought to be demanding (to know) why your prices went up so much,” Bennett said.

“To be honest, a lot of it is out of our control,” Commission Chairman Roger Fleming replied.

Bennett said he supported keeping adequate benefits for county employees, because that is crucial to keeping desirable employees.

Holub said the commission should keep in mind that any money spent on employee health insurance premiums has to come from county taxpayers.

Marion County isn’t the only entity facing rising insurance rates. Fleming said he spoke with the personnel director for the City of Newton — where Fleming was a firefighter many years — and was told Newton is in a similar situation.

County Treasurer Jeannine Bateman asked whether the county could save money by joining a statewide insurance pool. County Clerk Carol Maggard said it had been considered in the past, but the county would have been locked into the pool for five years, so the commission decided against joining.

Another possible way to reduce rates would be to seek proposals from other insurance companies. Fleming said while he worked for the City of Newton, the city switched from Blue Cross Blue Shield to reduce rates, but eventually switched back because the other company’s service wasn’t as comparable.

The county could also create a wellness program for employees, to reduce reliance on insurance. The ratio of claims paid to premiums collected is one of the criteria insurance companies use to determine rates.

None of the options for reducing rates would have been viable for now, though, Fleming said.

After the insurance discussion, the commission met in closed session for 10 minutes to discuss personnel, at Dallke’s request. No action was taken on return to open session.

Last modified March 9, 2011

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