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County to hold health costs at $5.6 million
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Newton County is increasing employees' health insurance costs in order to keep its costs flat next year.

The county was facing a 27 percent price hike if it kept its current plan under CIGNA, Chairman Kathy Morgan said Tuesday, and it paid around $5.6 million in health insurance costs this year, she added Thursday.

The board of commissioners approved a new plan Tuesday that increases deductibles from $250 to $750, out of pocket maximums from $1,000 to $2,000 and office visit copays from $20/$25 to $30/$50, said Gary Massey, the county's insurance consultant.

In addition, each hospital stay has a deductible of $150.The county also eliminated its point of service (POS) and preferred provider organization (PPO) options, moving all employees to a health maintenance organization (HMO). A total of 34 employees were using the two deleted plans, while 485 employees are in the HMO.

The changes will hold the cost steady, excepting for small fluctuations as employees are added or dropped. The county switched from a self-insured plan to a fully-insured plan last year.

CIGNA continues to promote its wellness programs in an effort to keep costs down.

In other county news, motorists can rejoice. The stop sign at the Covington Bypass Road railroad crossing is history.

Public works removed the sign this week; the crossing has already been paved over. Commissioner Tim Fleming said he was glad to see the sign come down.

"Over the past two years I've had many, many phone calls from very angry citizens," he said Tuesday.

Chairman Kathy Morgan said she has requested permission from Norfolk Southern to remove all of the other stop signs in unincorporated Newton County. If the county receives permission, it will replace the stop signs with "Tracks Out of Service" signs.

Commissioner Mort Ewing asked if the county would also be paving over the crossings. Morgan said all the crossings will need to be improved in some way, but money may not be available this year.

If the railroad chooses to abandon the corridor, it could pull up the steel rails and crossties, and Ewing expressed concern that the railroad could tear up any paving the county did. Morgan said it was her understanding the railroad would repair any damage it caused while pulling up the rails.

The sheriff's office submitted a grant application for bulletproof vests again this year, requesting 25 vests at a cost of $14,550. The Bulletproof Vest Program would reimburse the county for half the costs of the vests.

The board will not vote on its fiscal year 2012 budget until July 19, so it approved a resolution to allow the county to continue to operate on the current budget until that date.