Commissioners have rare disagreement on insurance provider

Butler County health insurance consultant Angela Wolfe with Horan explains options for next year, all of which include double-digit rate hikes that will cost at least $2.5 million.
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Butler County health insurance consultant Angela Wolfe with Horan explains options for next year, all of which include double-digit rate hikes that will cost at least $2.5 million.

For the first in a long time, the Butler County commissioners were at odds when they voted this week to replace the county’s health insurance provider to avoid a sizeable rate hike.

The three commissioners, who have served together since Commissioner T.C. Rogers was elected in 2012, are often in accord. This time, the vote was 2-1 to hire Medical Mutual of Ohio (MMO), the cheapest bidder at $19.9 million.

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“I have never more strongly disagreed with the decision of this board of commissioners, nor any previous board of commissioners since I’ve been an elected official,” Commissioner Cindy Carpenter said after an executive session.

“I believe in my heart that this is completely the wrong decision to make.”

The county sought a new health insurance carrier after it was warned high claims could push premiums to more than 10 percent. Rate increases in requests for proposals from eight companies ranged from 31.5 percent to 14.3 percent — or $5.5 million to $2.5 million. The quote from the former provider Meritain was 24 percent.

The two top contenders were MMO, which tendered the lowest rate increase at 14.3 percent, and United Healthcare, which offered a 16.6 percent increase.

Carpenter did not return messages seeking comment, but she indicated her position recently.

“I didn’t get the sense with the Medical Mutual presentation that they were employee-centered,” Carpenter said. “And I heard over and over again of the different ways that they cut costs by limiting services to the employees, so that is a big concern of mine, I want the employees to have what they have now, if not a better plan.”

Commissioner Don Dixon told the Journal-News there was no wrong choice, but the price mattered.

“There really wasn’t a wrong pick,” Dixon said. “But the bottom line was MMO was on its face, straight up out of the box … It was a dollar and cents and services comparison for me.”

Last year, the county went to a self-insurance model after several years of double-digit increases for insurance coverage. The prime causes behind the rate hikes were some large, unusual claims over several years. There were claims of $5 million in 2013 and $3 million during the month of November 2014.

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Under the self-insured plan the county pays an administrative fee and the claims. There is a stop-gap feature so if claims top the $175,000 mark the insurance carrier picks up the costs for anything over that amount. Last year the county had 19 claims top the stop-gap level compared to only two in 2016.

Earlier this year the county had to transfer $2.8 million into the insurance reserve to cover higher than expected claims.

The county has been hit with increases for the past several years but the commissioners have not passed those onto the employees. Commissioner T.C. Rogers said they still need to figure out how they can absorb the hike this year.

“I think there is going to be an increase for all,” Rogers said. “But the employees share would be much more moderate than what the county is going to take on as a whole.”

The county has to pay a $50,912 penalty for cancelling the deal with Meritain.