Butler County expecting 8 percent bump in health insurance costs

The Butler County commissioners agreed to renew the county’s health insurance plan with an estimated $1.5 million increase for next year after some initial disagreement about how much further study was needed.

The county’s health insurance costs this year are estimated to be about $20 million, although the final data are not yet available. The increased cost to the county is estimated to be about 8 percent.

The commissioners also moved to end a $720 annual premium credit available to employees who completed programs meant to decrease the costs of claims. About 530 employees participated in the wellness program over the past two years.

Those employees have received a $60-per-month credit in their insurance premiums. The health insurance committee decided to give participants gift cards instead, so the discounts won’t materialize in 2020.

Carpenter said the county discontinued the incentive because the necessary programs were “minimal” and not helpful in reducing the number of claims.

“We need to revamp our engagement strategy,” she told the Journal-News. “It will be disappointing that employees can’t gain discounts on their premium, but that was an initiative we took to drive down the cost of claims and it didn’t drive down the cost of claims. It didn’t pay off.”

During the commission meeting, Carpenter said she wanted to dig deeper into the details of the renewal before agreeing to raise costs on county employees. She said she goes more “into the weeds” than her fellow commissioners.

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“I take exception to one of you were more diligent in analyzing this than myself and Commissioner (Don) Dixon,” Commissioner T.C. Rogers said in response. “I don’t know what your basis for that is.”

Dixon asked the representative from United Healthcare if there is any flexibility in the increase. Jennifer Bowen, senior strategic account executive, said the county determines its own cost by with programs the commissioners pick.

“If there is to be any sort of an adjustment, it would need to be because a lever was pulled on plan design,” Brown said.

Dixon said commissioners have a deadline soon, and he was ready to make a decision.

“We can modify anything if we want to, so I don’t see really any reason to hold off on getting this program started,” Dixon said. “I think they (the consultants) continually look at the numbers and that should be ongoing all year long, not just at renewal. I checked the rates, I think the 8 percent is within the ballpark.”

Carpenter said, in agreeing to the renewal and increase, that she wants to study options further.

County Administrator Judi Boyko said the total insurance cost for this year will be determined after all claims are reconciled. It was expected to be about $20 million.

Boyko said employees can choose from multiple plans, which impact how much their portion of the bill will cost, but generally the commissioners cover about 82 percent for about 1,350 employees.

Carpenter indicated she wants the commissioners to absorb the entire increase, and there was no further discussion.

“That would be ideal to me,” she told the Journal-News. “Now if I can have that or not is a different story. That would be my first choice because we’re really on a roll with getting our employees to engage in preventative health and I’d like to be able to reward them for that.”

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Finance Director Tawana Keels said she’ll look into the added county cost.

“I haven’t had time to crunch numbers yet but I do think it’s a good idea to consider it, in light of the fact that the rates approved today do not include the discount, and it is a significant increase in the premium cost for employees,” she said. “It may create a burden for the employees.”

The commissioners have agreed to absorb increases before. The county went to a self-insurance model in 2017 after several years of double-digit percentage increases for insurance coverage, caused in part by several large claims. They had a single $5 million claim in 2013 and a month with $3 million in claims in November 2014.

Under the self-insured plan, the county pays an administrative fee and the claims themselves. There is a stop-gap feature so if claims top the $175,000 mark, the insurance carrier picks up the costs for anything over that amount.

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