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Gregg County purchases insurance plan

By Glenn Evans
July 15, 2013 at 10 p.m.

Gregg County commissioners agreed Monday to move $241,000 into their self-funded health insurance package available to their roughly 575 employees.

The move was necessary in order for the health insurance fund to maintain certain reserves after some fairly large claims this year, said Gregg County Judge Bill Stoudt.

The move also locked in costs for life insurance for three years and long-term disability coverage for two years.

The county, which has been self-insured since 2001, will continue to pay employee premiums but not those for spouses or dependents.

Monday's decision essentially kicked off public discussion of the 2013-14 county budget.

Stoudt said last week the insurance numbers were needed before talks could get started in earnest.

Of three companies submitting coverage proposals for life, long term disability and accidental death and dismemberment, Dearborn National won the court's nod.

The company already carries the county and offered the only proposal locking in rates.

"Dearborn is giving us a pass," insurance consultant Kenneth Wethe told commissioners, while recommending the county also save almost $11,000 by bumping up its stop-loss threshold from $150,000 to $175,000.

The stop-loss threshold is the most the county-funded plan will pay out before catastrophic coverage kicks in.

Commissioners also unanimously OK'd a $9,000 employee assistance program in which workers can find counseling, an attorney or other specialists through a 24-hour hotline. The program allows up to five appointments with a specialist.

Commissioners agreed to that last item after Wethe and Human Resources Director Rita Fyffe assured the court the lawyer option did not include advice on suing the county.

The $241,000 that commissioners agreed to move from the general fund into the self-insurance account is a 5 percent increase over this year. It brings the insurance account's general fund balance to $5 million, Stoudt said.

The potential effects of the Affordable Care Act also drew some discussion Monday. Federal health insurance exchanges, which will be clearinghouses for people without insurance to find plans, will be available this fall to Texas workers in the absence of a state health insurance exchange.

Wethe told the court the arrival of the federal exchanges will be considered a "qualifying event" allowing county employees to switch coverage if they find better options in the federal exchange.

Gregg County has about 575 employees, Fyffe said. There are 529 now in the plan, Wethe said, 120 of whom include dependents in coverage.

During the regular meeting before the budget workshop, commissioners were unanimous in renewing the $9 vehicle license fee.

The local charge funds road and bridge departments and was lowered several years ago from a $10 maximum to today's $9 level.



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