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County eyes insurance savings to help close budget gap

Good news on the county employee health insurance will help the county close its budget gap.

The county’s proposed budget projected a 5% increase for health insurance premiums. On Tuesday, the county insurance consultant Tim Deaton of the Horton Group presented a renewal with the Wisconsin County’s Association Group Health Trust with a 2% increase. This translates into a $42,926 total premium increase next year compared to a projected increase that was over $100,000 more than the current year.

Deaton explained that in addition to the renewal with WCA Trust, they had also solicited proposals from other vendors which ranged from Aspirus offering an in-network only HMO plan for a 4.06% drop from current costs to a WPS statewide plan that would be an increase of 23.25% over the current plan.

With about a $130,000 difference between the savings from the Aspirus in network-only option and the renewal rate for the WCA Trust, Deaton said it was worthwhile to at least have the conversation on if the county should switch.

Deaton said that in addition to being in network only, which would exclude coverage at Taylored Family Care, Marshfi eld Clinic and Oakleaf in Eau Claire, the plan structure would see more out of pocket costs for many employees with the combining of the employee plus one category into the family plans resulting in an increase of $1,500 in deductibles. Deaton noted that about 20% of the claims paid by the county’s insurance last year were to providers outside the Aspirus Network.

Members of the county finance and personnel committee weighed the potential for cost savings versus the benefit of stability for employees to stay with the current plan. Committee member Lester Lewis noted the county is concerned with employee morale in regard to retention and recruitment and said for the impact to the employees the savings are not worth it at this time.

“I am not going to say it is not tempting to save $120,000,” said committee member Scott Mildbrand. However, he said that they received a nice quote for renewal from WCA Trust and questioned if they went away from it, if the county would be able to get a good price from group trust in the future.

Deaton agreed, noting that the county had no way of knowing what year two of going with Aspirus would look like.

For committee member Tim Hansen, giving employees the option to go out of network was important. “Marshfield is a big part of healthcare here in Taylor County,” he said, noting its proximity. He said it was important to keep the option of being able to go out of network.

Deaton also presented some possible plan changes which would shift additional co-pay cost to the employees and reduce the increase by about 1.7%. This was met with resistance from committee members concerned it would further erode morale.

“I don’t want to do something that makes it harder,” said committee member Chuck Zenner. In the end, committee members voted to go with the WCA Trust renewal rate with a 2% increase over the current year.

Committee members had further discussion on how the savings in the proposed budget should be handled. The difference between the actual insurance increase versus what had been projected comes to about $63,000 in savings.

Finance director Larry Brandl and human resources director Marie Koerner suggested setting that money aside in the budget to have funds available to implement a compensation study currently being done. The study is looking at county wages to see how they compare in the market and among peer counties. The results of that study won’t be known until the end of the year.

As Koerner noted if they do not include something in the budget for it, they would not have the option to make any implementation. Lewis disagreed noting the county board can change its budget at any time and draw from reserves if needed.

Mildbrand agreed and said the savings between the projected and actual cost should be factored into the budget. “I think that should go toward budgetary relief now,” he said. Other committee members agreed and directed Brandl to refigure the budget to reflect the actual amount.