Lawrence supervisors ponder insurance plan

Published 5:00 am Tuesday, May 7, 2002

MONTICELLO — Discussion about how to manage rising medicalinsurance costs drove Monday’s Board of Supervisors meeting.

The discussion began when supervisors were informed that thecounty’s medical insurance would increase by $14,000 a month.

The county, presently insured by Blue Cross/Blue Shield ofMississippi, had been paying an average of approximately $358,000 amonth for a policy that has a $500 deductible. Insurance pays 80percent of costs up to $10,000 and 100 percent of costs exceeding$10,000. Employees pay $218 a month for the insurance.

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A suggestion was made about changing insurance companies, butAdministrative Consultant Charlie Prince advised that changinginsurance companies from year to year was not good. He also saidthat medical insurance was rising in every company, and that itmight be in their best interest to stay with the current one.

Prince said that annually the increase would total about twomills on the property tax levy if supervisors were to try to coverthe cost by raising taxes. Raising taxes was an option quickly putdown by supervisors.

Prince suggested that the only way to fund the increase may beto lower the medical insurance benefit by raising the deductibleand other fees.

“If you’re not interested in doing that there’s no sense intalking about it,” he said. “We’ll just pay it and move on.”

Beat 4 Supervisor Glenn Grubbs replied he was not in favor oflowering the benefits. He cited the high costs of prescriptions ashis primary concern.

Beat 1 Supervisor Carey Hedgepeth suggested the board consider arefigure and pay a certain percentage of any medical claims made,with the employee covering the rest through individual insuranceacquired on their own. It was pointed out later in the meeting thatthis policy is already in use by several major companies and somecounties.

Beat 2 Supervisor Billy Joe Boutwell pointed out that theproblem with such a solution is that some employees, “some of whichare sitting at this table,” would not be able to get any additionalinsurance because of pre-existing medical conditions if the countywere to drop them.

“I certainly believe we need to stand up for the ill and theelderly,” Boutwell said.

After a lengthy discussion about the various options, Princepointed out a way the county could manage the increase. The methodincluded reflowing the money that had been funding the hospitalinto medical insurance, modifying employee costs by raising thedeductible from $500 to $2,500 and changes in stop-loss from $1,000to $5,000, and increasing employee payments for the benefit from$218 to $289 per month.

“We need to be real careful about we do in here becauseotherwise we’ll hit the taxpayer twice,” Prince said, adding thatindividual medical insurance policies were also climbing.

The board decided to table the topic for a few days to thinkabout how best to resolve the issue.

In other matters, the board accepted a bid of $186,347.51 fromBlaine Companies to reseal eight miles of N.A. Sandifer MemorialHighway.

Sheriff Joel Thames also presented the board with a proposal tochange the jail’s food service to a three-meals-a-day schedule. Thejail presently serves two meals a day, he said, but most countieshave already begun serving three and he feels it is only a matterof time before it is required.

The jail is currently served by Lawrence County Hospital, whichserves the two meals a day for all inmates at a cost of $324 perday.

Thames presented the board with a proposal from a company whowould provide the three meals a day for $321 per day, but wouldrequire inmate support in the kitchen. They would provide $31,000in kitchen equipment, a manager and a cook. The equipment wouldbecome the property of the jail at the conclusion of a five-yearcontract.

There was some concern among supervisors about where a kitchencould be located in the jail. Thames said he had a location pickedout that the company said would be suitable.

Hedgepeth suggested that the sheriff, company representative andsomeone from the health department meet in the jail to ensure thelocation would meet all needs and codes.

“We just spent millions on the new jail and I want to make surewe don’t do anything to mess it up,” Boutwell agreed.

The board tabled the proposal until the meeting could beheld.

The board also accepted the resignation of two county employeesand hired a third to replace one of them.

The board accepted the resignation of James “Bo” Benson, countypurchasing agent, which will become effective June 30. Benson saidhe would stay on as long as the county needed him and wanted tohelp train his replacement, Prince said. The board felt they couldhire someone and have them trained by June 30 and set that date forBenson’s resignation.

The board also accepted the resignation of sheriff’s officedispatcher Lisa Griffith. They hired Melissa Barnes to replace her.Barnes had been working as a dispatcher part-time since Griffithturned in her resignation, Thames said, and was doing a goodjob.