County board wrestles with pricey insuranceCounty board wrestles with pricey insurance

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The morass that is the American health insurance system is again creating a headache for the Edgar County Board.

During the Wednesday, Aug. 14, county board meeting, members of the insurance committee reported the renewal for the county provided employee health insurance was received the prior Friday with a 4.5 percent premium increase.

“The committee has an issue with it,” said board member John Chittick, noting the county also offers an option to cover spouses and children of employees but the rates charged by the insurance company for that service are what he called prohibitive. “Because we offer the coverage it means they can’t go on the market place and look for something more affordable. It seems backward thinking but it may be a better benefit to the employees not to offer the coverage.”

County treasurer Don Wiseman and county engineer Aaron Lawson added their frustration with how the health insurance system is working.

Wiseman said as a parent with children getting started in adult life he wants to help them by keeping them on his health insurance, but when the monthly premium charge for children reached $1,700 that created an unaffordable bill of $20,000 and he wasn’t able to continue with health insurance for his children.

“It doesn’t make sense,” said Wiseman. “I’m not aware of any claims involving employees’ children.”

Offering an option to cover spouses and children is an impediment for Lawson to find affordable health insurance.

“I can’t go on the market place,” said Lawson. “One of the first questions asked is if my employer offers insurance for my wife and children and when I answer yes I get kicked off. I think it would be in the employees’ benefit if you didn’t offer it.”

That may not be an option. Edgar County Clerk and Recorder August Griffin said it is his understanding an employer is legally obligated to make health insurance available for an employee’s children but not for a spouse.

The renewal policy before the board did lower the premium for children from $1,700 a month to $1,200, or an extra $14,400 that comes directly from an employee’s pay. The county pays a share of the premium for an employee’s insurance but adding a spouse or children to the coverage is entirely the employee’s responsibility.

It was noted none of the county employees carry coverage on their children through the county’s provided health insurance, and only two employees cover their spouses on their policies.

Another issue the board wrestled with was how much of the premium increase to pass on to employees. Last year the county paid 80 percent of the premium and non-union employees paid 20 percent. The union employees in the sheriff’s department pay 15 percent of their health insurance and the county bears 85 percent of the cost.

After some calculations, it was determined if the county absorbs the entire 4.5 percent increase, the non-union employees will be responsible for a little more than 19 percent of the premium. Union employees are fixed at 15 percent of the cost per a contract.

“It’s not much of a decrease, but it’s something,” said Chittick.

Board member Derrick Lorenzen also supported the county absorbing the rate increase to help employees. He said a desirable long-term goal is to achieve parity between what union and non-union employees pay toward health insurance.

The board voted to accept the policy renewal because there is not time to bid it out and have everything in place by the first September payroll, when the current coverage expires.