Emotions ran high at the Crow Wing County Board meeting Wednesday when officials and county employees discussed a change in health insurance plans.
County Administrator Peter Herlofsky Jr. was authorized by the county board earlier this year to look at different health insurance options with the county's health provider, Blue Cross Blue Shield, and with other providers to decrease the health insurance cost and provide more options for employees.
Herlofsky recommended the county board go with a different health plan under Blue Cross Blue Shield and add the Voluntary Employee Benefit Account plan next year. This plan did not sit well with county employees who attended the meeting. And commissioners said they felt uncomfortable starting the plan in 2004.
The new health insurance plan would allow employees to choose between health plan options, such as single, two party or family cost participation. Currently the county offers one composite rate under a Basic plan or the Comprehensive Major Medical plan. A majority of the employees are on the CMM plan, county officials said.
With the new health insurance proposal employees would see a decrease in their monthly premiums. Employees on CMM currently pay $219.94 a month. If the employee was on the proposed plan this year they would have paid $51 on the single plan; $107 on the two party plan; and $163.13 on the family plan.
The county's portion for the CMM plan is $535.56 a month. Under the new plan, the county would have paid $153 a month on the single plan; $321 on the two party plan; and $489.38 on the family plan.
Employees would see a difference in the out-of-pocket expenses with the new health insurance plan. Herlofsky cited two examples to compare the out-of-pocket expense.
If an employee had $5,000 in drug costs and $5,000 in general medical expenses and their spouse had $2,000 in drug costs and $2,000 in general medical expense, they would have paid $1,620 in out-of-pocket expense this year on the CMM plan. If they would have been on the new plan they would have paid $3,500.
A single employee with $5,000 in medical expenses and $5,000 in drug cost, who is on the CMM plan, paid $910 in out-of-pocket expenses and on the new plan they would have paid $2,250.
The new health insurance plan has a higher deductible than the current plan. On the CMM plan there is a $200 deductible per person or a $400 deductible for family. On the new proposal, there is a $750 deductible for single and a $1,500 deductible for family.
Along with the health insurance plan not with Blue Cross Blue Shield is VEBA. VEBA is a separate contribution the county makes for the employees to help share the burden of the medical cost, said Herlofsky. He said VEBA would be beneficial to a healthy employee and it would decrease the out-of-pocket expense.
After about a three-hour discussion, the county board agreed to keep the current health plan for 2004. It also authorized Herlofsky to negotiate contracts with the bargaining units with VEBA in place in 2005.
The board agreed this would give employees a year to get to know how the plan works, to get questions answered and to feel comfortable with it.
Herlofsky said the combination of the new health insurance proposal and VEBA addresses all the issues that were brought forward by the union groups during past negotiations.
"You won't be able to make everyone happy," he said. "I know employees are nervous."
Commissioner Terry Sluss said he received several letters from employees who are unhappy with the health insurance proposal. Sluss said employees need to be educated on what the plan offers and they need to see examples on how the plan affects them.
Commissioner John Ferrari agreed and said he'd like to hear from department heads and elected officials on their opinions on the plan before accepting the proposal.
Herlofsky later said, "I work for the county board, not the department heads. What do you want? This is very labor intensive and if I continue (to pursue the health plan) I need your support."
Commissioner Ed Larsen said, "Timing is important on what we do on this. I'd like to reduce the pressure on the decision for employees."
Commissioner Gary Walters, who works in the insurance business, said VEBA is where health care is going.
"VEBA is hard to sell," said Walters. "I think it will benefit people in the long run. People will see a savings. But you can't do it this year."
County Recorder Kathy Ludenia said she talked with many employees who are uncomfortable with the new health plan.
"I would be more comfortable with this if other alternatives have been researched," she said. "I looked at this many times and I am very uncomfortable. There are basic questions that have not been answered."
County Assessor Martyn Schmidt said he ran numbers and he didn't see any savings with family coverage.
"I'm concerned on that fact alone," he said. "When my car or house insurance go up I look around and I always find a better deal."
Sharon Nix, who represents the county employees in the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Union, suggested that the county hire a mediator from the Minnesota Department of Mediation to help look at the insurance plan.
"There are so many questions and conflicting information," she said.
After staying quiet for the discussion, County Auditor Roy Luukkonen shared his opinion. "I take a very guarded position on this and you have yet to convince me otherwise. No positive points have been shared with me by department heads."
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