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County facing rising health insurance costs

Butler County Commissioners are weighing their options after learning that the county’s health insurance carrier intends to raise its premium rates.

The increase, which according to County Administrator Diane Kilpatrick will likely take effect following open enrollment in November, will cost the county an additional $67,000.

It comes as result of a 7.8 percent increase in the county’s premium, as well a likely switch from the preferred rate offered by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama to the standard rate.

The cost of the preferred rate is going from $396 to $427 and the standard rate is from $432 going to $466. Butler County pays 100 percent of the single coverage for the employee.

“In order to qualify for the preferred rate, the county has to have been enrolled for over two years in the program; it has to have at least 30 percent employee participation in the wellness program; and if you allow retirees to stay on the insurance, the county has to have at least 5 percent of the total enrolled in the program in retiree participation.

“The county has been receiving the preferred rate for several years now, but after open enrollment this year, I feel certain that we will be moved back to the standard rate, which is higher. Butler County has been on the fence each year with our total enrolled and the number of retirees we have on the coverage.  Since we increased personnel this year, that was going to put us above the required 5 percent in retirees who take advantage of the health insurance.”

Commissioner Frank Hickman questioned whether the county needs to continue allowing retired employees to remain on the county’s insurance plan.

“They (the retirees that take part in the county’s insurance program) are all Medicare eligible? So we’re covering them as a secondary insurance after Medicare? Is it time for us to revisit this?” Hickman asked.

According to Kilpatrick, retirees who stay on the county’s insurance program are required to pay the full price of the premium. She said it has been a challenge to meet the 5 percent required for the preferred rate and the increase in premium cost is making that even more challenging.

“We have had an increase in cost over the last several years but had managed to stay on the preferred rate premium,” she said. “This year, I am afraid that we will not be placed on the preferred rate premium.  The insurance company has also increased the amount of our co-pays for doctor visits from $35 to $40 and the amount the employee will be paying for generic medicines from $5 to $10. Frankly, I don’t see any end in sight to the insurance increases.”

The commission voted unanimously to go with Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama as the county’s insurance provider for the upcoming fiscal year.