Insurers fight for Hamilton County contract

Insurers fight for Hamilton County contract

May 19th, 2011 by Dan Whisenhunt in News

BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee served notice Wednesday that it is fighting a proposal to switch the county's insurance contract to Cigna.

Tony Pepper, business segment director of major accounts for BlueCross, told Hamilton County commissioners the company had filed a formal protest. In response to Pepper's statements, commissioners decided to delay voting on the Cigna contract until May 26.

"BlueCross BlueShield is afraid that we're going to lose your business," Pepper said. "Your employees are afraid. Being afraid is not healthy."

Many county employees have expressed reservations about the proposed change from BlueCross, citing problems experienced with Cigna before the county switched to BlueCross in 2003.

Commissioners who were on a panel when the insurance was with Cigna said it was not a pleasant experience. County commissioners are eligible for county insurance.

Cigna says it can save the county $1 million annually and the county is looking for savings everywhere this year. Administrator of Finance Louis Wright said the county spends $20.8 million a year on insurance, the bulk of which goes to paying claims.

Brent Wick, Cigna vice president of sales, said he thinks the company can convince the county that going with Cigna is the best option.

"We're disappointed they didn't go ahead and vote. However, we still feel confident," Wick said.

Several county employees in the audience groaned and shook their heads as Russ Blakely, an independent benefits consultant, explained that Cigna today is not what it was eight years ago.

"When you were fully insured with Cigna all of [the] membership with Cigna experienced problems," Blakely said. "Today you're in a different product. It's almost so different it's like a different company."

Pepper spent his presentation casting doubt on Cigna's claims that it could save the county money.

Commissioner Fred Skillern said he wanted to see a draft of a contract with Cigna before he voted to approve anything. He also wanted an "escape" clause so the commission could terminate the contract if Cigna does not meet expectations.

Commissioner Greg Beck acknowledged that county employees are nervous about the potential switch.

"Our employees are so afraid," he said.