The rising cost of health insurance and what to do about it was discussed at a Dale County Commission work session Aug. 27.
Dale County Commission Chairman Mark Blankenship said that the county health insurance fee may increase some $70,000 next year.
The reason, Blankenship said, is that the council is about to lose its “preferred rate” status and revert to a “standard rate” status.
“This will be a tremendous hit to us financially,” Blankenship told the commissioners. “It’s a hit at a time when we are trying to figure out a way to pay more of the employees’ family health insurance coverage.”
At issue is the fact that one of the parameters for maintaining the “preferred rate” is a requirement that 5 percent of a county’s participants in the health insurance plan be retirees.
In Dale County’s case that would mean that eight retirees should be on the health insurance plan, explained Dale County Administrator Cheryl Ganey. That number is currently seven. If that number does not increase to at least eight employees by Jan. 8, 2020, the county will revert to “standard rate” status.
Three of the retirees on county health insurance are non-Medicare eligible and four are Medicare eligible, Ganey said.
Losing “preferred status” will cost the county an extra $70,000. “That is just the cost to the county,” Ganey said. “The cost to the employees will also increase.
“The increase is not just for the retirees, it is for all employees in the county that have health insurance,” Ganey said. A 10 percent increase in the single coverage and a 14 percent increase in the family coverage are anticipated if the county goes to a “standard rate.”
Blankenship said most counties in the immediate area do not have health insurance options for retirees. “It’s basically going to come down to the question of do we try to do more for the current employees we have or the retirees,” he said. “I know (the Dale County Sheriff’s Department) struggles to hire folks because of the family health coverage cost.”
Dale County Sheriff’s Department Chief Deputy Mason Bynum agreed, noting that the family health insurance coverage cost is difficult to afford on what a deputy is paid. “We need to do something because we are struggling,” he said about the difficulty the department is having attracting job applicants.
Ganey said that the commission must make a decision on what to do about health insurance no later than November. “But really as soon as possible because I need to know what to include in the budget,” she said. “Because a $70,000 difference is quite a bit for our budget.
“The way it is looking so far, I don’t know where to get that $70,000,” Ganey added. “We are going to have to do away with some of the things we were going to do or going to have to cut into some of the operational expenses.”
No decision was made by the commission but it is expected to be an issue at the meeting in two weeks.
In unrelated business the commission rejected the three bids submitted for the county solid waste contract at the advice of County Attorney Henry Steagall, which came on the heels of apparent confusion over verbiage about a bid bond requirement. The county will also omit the option for the county to provide the cans and set the contract start date at Feb. 4, 2020.
The next meeting of the Dale County Commission is Tuesday, Sept. 10, at the Dale County Government Building in Ozark. A work session begins at 10 a.m. and is followed immediately by a voting meeting. Both meetings are open to the public.