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Mecklenburg County eyes health savings accounts to lower its costs

SoVaNow.com / March 13, 2013
Mecklenburg County employees who receive health insurance under a traditional plan could see the costs of coverage jump by nearly 90 percent — prompting a rethinking by the Board of Supervisors on what kind of policies Mecklenburg should offer to its employees.

The good news, according to assistant county administrator Judy Sheffield, is that Mecklenburg has found “a more affordable option,” a Health Savings Account (HSA) issued by Optima Health, that lowers employee premium costs.

Abiding by standard practice, Mecklenburg County put its employee health insurance coverage package out to bid. The current provider, Anthem, indicated it will increase premium costs by nearly 27% with no additional coverage. Anthem said the significant increase was due to an increase in claims for the prior year, said Sheffield.

A second provider, Optima Health, offered a more affordable option using an HSA instead of a traditional policy. Employees and retirees could continue with traditional coverage, with its $500 deductible for individuals and $1000 for families, but their premiums would increase to $221.21 per month for single coverage, $300 for single coverage plus one, and $482 per month for family coverage.

The county would continue to pay the lesser of two costs — 75% of the total premium, or $400 for single coverage, $575.00 for an employee plus one dependent, and $925 for family coverage. Each employee or retiree would pay 25% or the cost difference between the premium and the amount paid by the county.

Sheffield told supervisors Monday that when she first learned of the potential increase in insurance costs, she “was worried to death.” However, the more she studied the HSA option, she said, the more she came to believe that Optima’s HSA “is a rich plan with good benefits.”

“We have already scheduled a series of meetings with the employees to discuss this shift in insurance coverage. I believe education is key,” Sheffield added.

The proposed HSA can be used in either a PPO (an option where the employee picks his or her own doctor) or an HMO (an option where the employee must select a doctor from an approved network). It has a $3,000 individual deductible and a $6,000 family deductible for both the PPO and the HMO. The county would seed the plan, putting in $1,800 for an individual plan and $3,600 for a family plan.

“It is our hope,” Sheffield said, “that our employees will fund their plans using the monies saved through a decrease in their insurance premiums. Regardless of whether the employee chooses the traditional plan or an HSA, the county would continue to fund dental insurance for its employees, as the cost for that dropped 9%.

If retirees want to have the HSA, they will need to fund it through their own HSA account. This proposal will keep the cost of the insurance plan at its current level to the county.

In other business at Monday’s monthly board meeting, supervisors approved a special use exception permit for an assisted living home on Mineral Springs Road in Palmer Springs. According to Adrian Kittrell, the home will be a residence for people with intellectual disabilities who are leaning to become independent.

Angie Kellett and Sam Piercy were reappointed to the Southside Planning District Commission. In addition, supervisors agreed to waive the building permit fees for Chase City as it begins a revitalization project on Washington Street.

County Administrator Wayne Carter told supervisors to anticipate making a substantial payment, around $750,000, to the Meherrin River Regional Jail, for the county’s share of inmate costs. Initially, Mecklenburg projected its share of the jail population — those whose last known address was in Mecklenburg County before entering the system — at 142 inmates per day. Instead, the county’s inmate population is at 189 per day. Thus, the County’s share of operations’ costs — food, guards, and the like — is substantially more than was projected.

Carter said the Meherrin River Regional Jail Authority is looking into the possibility of assessing a minimum cost to each county in the future, hoping to prevent any one county from carrying the financing onus.

Finally, supervisors hired a new tourism director, Justin Kerns, at a salary of $40,000. He begins the job on April 8. He is currently a product development and revenue coordinator for a boutique river cruise company in Encino, Calif. He also does tourism consulting on the side.

Kerns holds a BS in Recreation and tourism management and an MS in Tourism management, both from Cal State, North Ridge. His focus will be on promoting Mecklenburg County and the lake to vacationers and organizations around the state and country.

Kellett said despite Kerns’ California address, he is not new to the area. Kerns grew up on a tobacco farm near Charlottesville, and he still has family in the area.



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