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Health insurance costs to rise for Lincoln County employees

Lincoln County employees will see a spike in health insurance costs beginning May 1 after a year of sickness scared off providers.

County insurance agent Sylvia King on Monday presented supervisors with a handful of unfavorable options for the annual health insurance contract renewal for the county’s 138 employees on the plan, all of which involve tradeoffs between doubling deductibles or high-percentage premium increases. Supervisors tabled the decision until a special meeting Monday at 9 a.m., sending King away for more research in the hopes a better option can be found. UnitedHealthcare — the county’s current provider — was the only company to respond to King’s outreach.

“I couldn’t even get anybody to quote us. They looked at it and wrote us a letter saying their price wouldn’t be competitive,” she told exasperated supervisors. “Basically, they gave us a note saying they don’t want us.”

King told supervisors health insurance providers were scared away by the poor health of the county employee group. She said two employees had surpassed $200,000 in medical expenses with brain conditions, while numerous others had gone beyond $100,000 with aneurysms, cystic fibrosis and other ailments.

Other factors causing health insurance providers to run is the average age of the group — 50 — and prescription drug expenditures. She said county employees have been running around $30,000 in drug expenses monthly for several months.

“We have a very unhealthy plan with a lot of health conditions going on,” King said. “We’re in a situation where (the providers) just can’t do it. They’re losing money on us.”

Due to privacy laws, King did not identify any of the employees. She reminded supervisors of the law, cautioning them not to do any investigating.

At first, supervisors were in favor of preserving the current plan’s $1,000 deductible, which would bring on rate increases of 17.5 percent.

The county makes contributions to premium costs, but the increase would see the 21 employees enrolled in family coverage take on an increase of $210 per month (for a total monthly premium of $2,152.85); the 28 who ensure their spouses would see an increase of $121.63 ($1,558.97); the 17 with children insured would pay an additional $96.98 ($1,373.37); and the 72 employee-only enrollees’ rate increase of $110.57 would be negated by county contributions.

Supervisors could lower those monthly rate increases by choosing a plan with a yearly deductible of $2,000 or more, but they cringed at the option.

“I won’t vote to go over a $1,000 deductible,” said District 4 Supervisor Eddie Brown. “We don’t pay these hands a lot, and the best thing they get out here is their benefits. Sometimes I wonder how some of them make it. McDonald’s employees out-make them these days.”

Brown made a motion to renew the plan with a $1,000 deductible and premium increases, but later withdrew his motion after more discussion about the costs that would be placed on employees insuring their spouses and children.

Another problem supervisors face with any of the UnitedHealthcare options is the coverage network. King said none of the local dentists are in the plan’s network, while Simmons Eye Clinic and Walmart are the only eye doctors. She hopes to gather filing information from local dentists and talk UnitedHealthcare into expanding its network.

Supervisors are caught in a tough spot and will have to decide Monday which option to enact — increased premiums or high deductible. They must select a plan and send out notice of open enrollment by April 1 in order for the plan to take effect on May 1.

District 5 Supervisor Doug Falvey responded with anger toward Stephen J. Hemsley, the CEO of UnitedHealth Group, which owns UnitedHealthcare and several other health insurance companies. Filings with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission show Hemsley made $66 million in 2016.

“How can we go back to our employees and justify that? There’s no guy worth $66 million a year,” Falvey hollered. “They ought to cut his salary.”

King agreed, but tried to focus on the issue at hand.

“He’s making money, but not off this plan,” she said.

The complexity and gravity of the decision took over the boardroom. At one point, Lincoln County Sheriff Steve Rushing stood beside county administrator David Fields, going over numbers like an accountant.

Supervisors also asked input from Lincoln County Tax Collector Blake Pickering.

“It will hit my office pretty dern rough,” he said. “A lot of my employees are there for insurance coverage for their kids.”