Butler County health insurance to jump $2 million

Butler County and its employees will share the $2.1 million health insurance hike next year, but commissioners will not shift any more of the 12.6 percent premium increase burden on workers as they have in years past.

The commissioners approved the final year contract with its health insurance consortium, the County Employee Benefits Consortium of Ohio (CEBCO), on Monday including a 12.6 percent premium hike and kept the $60 per month surcharge for smokers. The new premium is estimated at $16.78 million and the county and its employees who are on the health and dental plan will both bear the increase, but the county didn’t increase the percentage of the total premium their people pay as they did last year.

“There have been years past where the county did not pick up any of the increase, it all went on the employees,” Administrator Charlie Young said. “There have been years where we’ve made plan changes, more like last year and each side bore the increase.”

Last year the commissioners, in a concerted effort to get spouses off their policy to reduce costs, raised some rates and also instituted the smoker’s surcharge. A wellness program is also in full swing, with at least 40 percent participation.

The commissioners agreed during budget hearings last year to absorb $447,102 of the 11.3 percent rate hike, leaving employees to cover the rest, or $838,836. In 2013 the county was initially hit with a 6.7 percent increase, but they were able to whittle that down to 5.25 percent by adding a third higher deductible plan to the policy. The commissioners absorbed the entire $647,484 premium increase that year.

Last year the county shifted the overall responsibility percentage from 78/22 percent to 75/25 percent, with the county paying the larger portion. The 75/25 split will remain in effect for next year. The majority of the employees subscribe to the “low” family plan so their monthly premium would have gone from $213 to $317 this year. Human Resources Director Jim Davis did not have updated premium figures for next year.

The county’s health insurance consortium, from June 2013 through May 31, 2014 was paid $14 million in premiums but CEBCO paid out $16.7 million for claims, so for the second year in a row it is imposing a double-digit rate hike.

Davis says the prime mover behind the rate hikes has been just some really large, once-in-a-lifetime claims in the past few years. They had a single $5 million claim in 2013 and a $3 million month last November.

“Health insurance is kind of a little bit harder to get a handle on because so much of it is, it’s not preventable stuff, it’s just the outcome of a bad health situation,” he said. “It’s nobody’s fault really, it just happens.”

Commissioner Don Dixon said the commissioners were originally told the CEBCO contract expired this year but it doesn’t end until next year. Dixon and the other commissioners tried to pressure CEBCO into lowering the premium, but the consortium held all the cards.

“We ended up having to stay with the carrier we’ve got and that was the best rate we could get from them,” Dixon said. “So part of it was posturing a little bit on our part, trying to press them for better rate, ‘we’re going to be doing something else, you’d better come down here,’ but they didn’t, so it is what it is.”

Dixon said there would have been a “couple million dollar penalty” if they backed out of their contract early, but they are planning to switch to self insurance, or some hybrid there of, for 2017 so everyone should get some financial relief.

Sgt. Jeff Gebhart, union chief for the deputies and their supervisors said they have just filed notice to negotiate a new contract with the sheriff so he couldn’t comment on the rate hike. Some of the sheriff’s unions filed contract re-openers over the insurance issue, but the matter settled over some contract language.

Children Services Union President Becky Palmer said she was “shocked” when she learned about the insurance hike.

“Many employees have attended the Wellness programs and made great efforts to improve their health and reduce the costs to the county and yet their insurance costs increase nearly doubled,” she said. “It doesn’t make sense and it isn’t acceptable. The county has improved their budget and no longer has this great deficit due to sacrifices made by employees, yet what are they doing to help their employees today.”

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