LC supervisors debate health care options for county employees

Published 6:00 pm Wednesday, March 9, 2022

During the Lincoln County Board of Supervisors meeting March 7, supervisors heard from officials about a need to make a choice of health care services for county employees – should they stick with what they know or try something different?

 The county currently employs United HealthCare for its combined benefits, but the plan will rise 35 percent this coming year, somewhat due to COVID-19 expenses and a lot due to the many claims filed in the past fiscal year.

Gray Montgomery of Combined Benefits Administrators and Richard Cothern of Gulf Guaranty Health discussed the changing landscape of health care costs due to the pandemic and other factors. “You’ve had a 35 percent increase due to claims this past year,” Montgomery said. “You paid $1.7 million in premiums and had $2.5 million paid out in claims. That’s a 145 percent loss ratio because you had 55 percent higher claims, with one insured plan member costing $300,000 on pharmacy claims alone.”

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Montgomery was there to speak of choices the supervisors had to make about health care for employees. Jerry Wilson of District 1 said dropping dependents wasn’t an option. “I know it’s a lot of money [paid out], but that’s someone’s loved one,” he said with passion. “If we have to pay extra, we should have to pay extra because without [benefits], that person’s going to die.”

Montgomery said he was there to show supervisors research so they know their options, not to tell them what to do, and certainly not to take anyone “off” any benefits. 

“We call it ‘medical inflation’ – costs have tripled for everyone,” he said of the astronomical costs everyone in the country seems to be facing. “We want to help you make an informed decision, not to tell you what to do.”

Cothern offered to work with Montgomery and Lincoln County City Administrator Daniel Calcote to bring more options to the table by moving around – also called cost shifting – items here and there to make it easier for county employees to keep their families on the health insurance plan.

“Most employees can’t pay more than they are already paying!” District 4’s Eddie Brown said with annoyance. “They need this coverage. We don’t want them to drop the coverage – we’ve got to take care of families. We need more options.”

Calcote said one easy way to reduce costs was for department heads to encourage their employees to utilize their wellness benefits. 

After a lengthy discussion among the supervisors and advisers, the board decided to table a vote until the next meeting, which will be at 9 a.m. March 10. 

Also on Thursday, supervisors will also further discuss their feelings on medical marijuana in the county. A few supervisors seemed absolutely against allowing it, with others saying let the May 2 deadline pass and what the people voted for (which is for medical marijuana) go into effect without them interfering. 

As it stood after the March 7 meeting, supervisors seemed to be ready to force a new vote – and considerable cost – of Lincoln County voters to see if they are nay or yeah about allowing anything at all when it comes to medical marijuana. 

A majority of Mississippi voters approved a medical marijuana initiative in 2020, though there were legal problems with the initiative afterward. The state Republican-led House and Senate passed a final version of Senate Bill 2095 and Gov. Tate Reeves signed finally the legislation legalizing medical cannabis on Feb. 2.

Several people spoke at the meeting about how they hoped Lincoln County supervisors would “opt in” due to the many benefits of the medicine for seriously ill patients in the county. Jason McDonald already grows hemp in the county and he’s not worried so much about the options supervisors are facing.

“If you opt out, all we’d need are 1,500 signatures to [overrule that,] so …” he said sadly. “I just hate that Lincoln County will not benefit at all from the manufacture and sale – however they come up with selling it. I don’t care how they sell it – I’m a cultivator and I’ll either cultivate for the people of Lincoln County or sell it to the neighboring counties that are already opting in. But there are people in this county who should be able to get medical marijuana when they are proscribed it, and they will – over the county line to a county that allows it. That’s money out of the pockets of Lincoln County.”

In other news, the board approved the following:

  • an engagement letter with Butler Snow for ARPA funds consulting, the county meal county sheets for Week 21 and a school bus turnaround for Alicia Gill in District 1
  • an alternative vendor for the HOME Grand Asbestos/lead-based painting testing after PPM backed out. The next closest bid was from Advanced Enviornmental Consultants and the project was awarded to them.
  • the exemption certification from the Department of Revenue allowing Rex Lumber Brookhaven LLC to be eligible for tax exemption for its new pellet mill and approved the inventory control sheets.
  • the naming of a private road off Hutchinson Road “Whitestone Trail SE,” a constable training event and a lease agreement with MCC MS for a new postage system that would separate expenses among all the county departments.

The board tabled renewal of a Norfield voting precinct lease on the Lewis and Earl Brown property until research shows who actually owns the property and who is the person who should be paid.