The Unicoi County Commission approved funds to help cover the cost of county employees’ health insurance premiums during a meeting on Monday, May 21. Pictured from left are commissioners, Todd Wilcox, Kenneth Garland, Jason Harris, Marie Rice and John Mosley. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Kendal Groner)

By Kendal Groner & Keeli Parkey

Despite a small turnout of its members for its Monday, May 21, meeting, the Unicoi County Commission had a quorum and decided to follow the recommendation of the county’s Employee Benefits/Salary/Policy Committee, passing a motion for the county to cover the cost of the 6 percent premium increase with United HealthCare coverage, in addition to supplying a $300 monthly supplement for employees choosing family coverage.

After the committee compared BlueCross BlueShield plans with those of United Healthcare, members recommended that the county stick with United HealthCare due to the lower cost it would have for employees.

“I think they will be happier staying with United than going with BlueCross because of the six percent increase,” said Todd Wilcox, Unicoi County commissioner and chair of the committee.

Wilcox made a motion to continue with United HealthCare, and it was seconded by County Commissioner Jason Harris before it passed with Wilcox, Harris, Kenneth Garland, John Mosley and Marie Rice voting in favor.

With the 6 percent increase, the price of the monthly premiums that the county was paying for each employee will increase from $520 to $551.

“Since 2014, there haven’t been any increases in premiums and we looked at that back and forth,” Wilcox said.

Based on the current number of employees with county insurance, it is estimated that the changes will cost the county approximately $60,000.

“We need to keep moving forward and improving our insurance,” said Wilcox.

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Monday’s vote came a few days after the county’s Employee Benefits/Salary/Policy Committee met and recommended that the county provide additional funds to assist employees with the cost of their health insurance. The committee, which is chaired by Commissioner Todd Wilcox and includes commissioners Jason Harris and John Mosley, met at the Unicoi County Courthouse on Friday, May 18.

During the May 18 meeting, Jon Manful, a representative of Mark III Employee Benefits, presented the committee, as well as the other commissioners, officeholders and county employees in attendance, with a recent history of the county’s health insurance.

According to Manful, the county-funded 100 percent of employee individual health coverage and contributed $170 per month for employee family coverage during 2010-12.

In 2013, Manful said, the county’s contribution to individual coverage was capped at $520 per month and continued funding the $170 a month for family coverage.

In 2014, the $520 for individual coverage continued. The County Commission also chose to fund $1,111.82 per month for employee family coverage. This meant that employees who chose family coverage only paid $300 per month for health insurance.

The following year, the county continued the $520 contribution for individual coverage, but provided no additional funding for family coverage. In 2016-17, the county provided a $520 contribution for individual coverage and family coverage; employees were required to pay the difference for the plan they chose.

“Employees have had to pick up any additional premium cost for individual or family coverage,” Manful said. “Plan design changes have also been made to keep benefits and premiums competitive.”

Manful also presented the committee with insurance options for 2018-19. He said that UnitedHealthcare (UHC), which is the county’s current health insurance provider, first came back with an increase of 9 percent for the coming year; however, the company later reduced the renewal increase to 6 percent. Manful described this as a “ very fair renewal.”

Manful also shopped the county’s insurance coverage with BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee (BCBST), AETNA and CIGNA. BCBST presented a proposal that included plan modifications. Neither AETNA nor CIGNA agreed to issue a quote.

With UnitedHealthcare and BCBST the only options on the table, Manful then discussed each plan with the committee. The following are the renewal premiums, which vary depending on the deductible and out-of-pocket costs in the respective plan, offered by UHC:

• Individual – Plan 1: Goes from $577.55 in 2017-18 and will increase to $614.79 for 2018-19. If the county continues to fund $520 per month for individual coverage, county employees will have to pay $94.79 per month – a monthly increase of $37.24 over the $57.55 they paid last year. Seventy-two county employees were on this plan in 2017-18.

• Individual – Plan 2: Goes from $482.24 per month in 2017-18 and will increase to $508.23 in 2018-19. Because the county funds up to $520 per month, employees on this plan do not have to pay a monthly premium. Four county employees were on this plan in 2017-18.

• Individual – Plan 3: Increases from $423.57 in 2017-18 to $450.79 in 2018-19. Because this is also less than $520, employees, six of whom were on this plan in 2017-18, do not pay a premium.

• Family – Plan 1: Will increase from $1,408.45 in 2017-18 to $1,449.09 in 2018-19. With the $520 paid by the county per month, employees who choose this plan would have paid $888.45 per month in 2017-18 and $979.09 per month in 2018-19. No county employees were on this plan in 2017-18.

• Family – Plan 2: Will increase from $1,176.48 with the employee responsible for $656.48 per month to $1,239.74 with the employee responsible for $719.74 per month. No employees were on this plan in 2017-18.

Family – Plan 3: Will go from $1,055.60 with the employee paying $535.60 per month in 2017-18 to $1,099.94 per month with the employee paying $579.94 in 2018-19. There were six employees on this plan in 2017-18.

The 2018-19 UHC plans offer the same benefits as the previous year.

The employee contributions for premiums offered by BCBST for 2018-19 were as follows:

• Individual – Plan 1: $138.20 per month.

• Individual – Plan 2: $50.49 per month.

• Individual – Plan 3: $0 per month.

• Family – Plan 1: $1,194.60 per month.

• Family – Plan 2: $966.13 per month.

• Family – Plan 3: $268.58.

A total of 93 employees had some form of insurance in 2017-18. With the county paying $520 per month for each employee, health insurance last year cost the county $580,320.

After some discussion, the committee decided that staying with UHC would be the best option for the employees in 2018-19. The members then had to decide how much the county should contribute for each employee.

Manful said the 6 percent increase with UHC would move the $520 paid by the county per month per employee to $551.20.

“If the county bumps up the contribution on those 93 employees, that would give you a total of $615,139,” Manful said. “It would be an increase for this upcoming budget year of $34,819. Again, the county has not increased any of its share toward the cost of healthcare since 2013. There has been no additional funding from the employer’s side since then. It’s all had to be done in plan design modification or passing on additional cost to the employees.”

Wilcox suggested that the county provide an additional $200 per month supplement for employees who wanted to have family coverage.

“I would definitely like us to do something to help families,” Commissioner Loren Thomas said. He later said that family insurance coverage for county employees “has been totally unaffordable for several years.”

Mosley suggested a $300 supplement per month on family coverage. Commissioner Gene Wilson also expressed support for providing additional assistance to employees choosing family coverage.

Administrator of Elections Sarah Bailey expressed concern during the meeting about the high cost of family coverage. Bailey said she has family insurance through the county and that paying such a high price for the insurance is a burden for employees.

“How many people here cannot afford family insurance?” Bailey asked. “Right now, I pay over $900 out of pocket between my premium and my HSA (health savings account). So, I literally pay every single thing until I get to almost $6,000. I just think there are a ton of people here that that’s not something they can do. The fact that we have almost 100 people with insurance coverage and only six can afford family care – that’s shameful, I think. I know there are more people in the county who need family coverage and it’s not a possibility for them. I am fortunate that I can pay that much.”

The committee considered paying $551.20 per month per employee on individual coverage, then capping the total paid per month by employees with family coverage at $300 per month. The $300 cap for family coverage was determined not to be financially feasible; so, the committee decided to recommend that the county provide an additional $300 supplement to go along with the $551.20 provided for individual coverage to employees choosing family coverage. For example, an employee who chose UHC family coverage on Plan 3, instead of paying $580 per month, they would pay only $280 thanks to the $300 supplement.

“This way we are helping both employees with individual and family coverage,” Wilcox said.

The committee, – Wilcox, Harris and Mosley – unanimously voted to recommend that to the full commission.