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Health insurance costs rise for county, Covington employees
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The county is beginning to see the fruits of an increased emphasis on wellness programs in its health insurance costs, according to its insurance agent, as those costs will remain stable, with county employees potentially bearing some extra costs.

The Newton County Board of Commissioners voted last week to continue employee health insurance from Blue Cross/Blue Shield at the same price, $6.08 million, but employees will see their co-insurance rates rise from 10 percent to 20 percent.

The co-insurance rate is the percentage of costs a person has to pay once he or she has paid all of the $500 deductible; common items that fall under this are outpatient visits, surgeries, diagnostic testing and in-patient hospital stays.

Dental insurance costs will increase by $22,133.

When he initially presented the health-care renewal contract in April, insurance agent Gary Massey said it was the best renewal offer the county had received in years.

He said he believed employees had gained more awareness of maintaining their own health care and the county’s cost share restrictions on its plan had also helped to reduce costs.

In order to keep the same plan with the same co-insurance rate, the county would have had around a 6.5 percent cost increase – about $425,700 – but Massey said that’s much better than the double digit percent increases the county had in past years because of its high claims.

Massey said plans with an 80/20 percent co-insurance rate are common.

He suggested the county not bid out health care this year, because it had received a reasonable renewal and because the contract had been bid out each of the past three years.

He recommended that the county bid out its health plan at most once every two years, as companies that bid want to see some stability in accounts.

However, if a renewal offer seemed unfairly high, the county could always choose to bid out the contract, Massey said.

Enrollment in the plan, as of April, was 115 single-person plans and 405 family plans.

The yearly employee cost for a single plan is $480 and is $1,133 for a family plan. Dental costs are $25.64 for single and $71.96 for family average. Employee contributions accounted for $444,986.

While the board eventually chose to save the 6.5 percent cost now, Massey cautioned that he was still seeing no certainty about where the cost of health insurance will go as health-care reform is implemented.

Commissioner Nancy Schulz said she was pleased by the progress and encouraged even more steps to increase the focus on wellness.

She said obesity-related health issues often place the highest burden on the health-care system long term and she wanted to see an aggressive prevention and wellness promotion plan, including even bigger incentives to be healthy.

The county has a wellness committee that studies various issues, and Schulz urged members to encourage wellness even more.

Massey said the county had 102 employees attend a previous health fair at the Turner Lake Complex and had 225 employees take part in a two-day health screening event at the Newton County Administration Building.

He said Blue Cross/Blue Shield has increased funding for wellness.

Covington health insurance costs

The city of Covington was not quite as lucky, as its total health insurance costs, including dental and vision, will increase by $297,742 to $4.85 million. Covington contracts with CIGNA for its health insurance.

City employees will bear some extra costs, as their office co-pay rate will increase from a flat $15 charge to a $20 charge and their calendar year deductible will increase from $300 to $350. In a memo to the city, Massey, who also serves as Covington’s insurance agent, recommended the city keeps its “grandfather status,” which reduces the changes an organization can make to a plan but prevents it from having to follow all new mandated provisions.