Hamilton County seeks to soothe angst over health plan

photo Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger comments on a portion of his budget to county commissioners in this file photo.

In other business, the commmission* Voted to exempt unincorporated areas of the county from the recently passed distilleries law. Commissioner Jim Fields added an amendment to the resolution ensuring that those in unincorporated areas would be able to vote on a referendum to allow distilleries to operate.* Voted to accept a $43,302 Justice Assistance Grant for Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Hammond's office.* Voted to buy a $121,641 dump truck for the highway department.* Voted to approve contracts for four staff members to work for Hamilton County Drug Court.

A week after Mayor Jim Coppinger announced a proposed downgrade to the county's health insurance policy, officials are working to assuage employee concerns.

Human Resources Director Leslie Longshore told commissioners Wednesday during a regular commission meeting that she was speaking with small groups of employees throughout the county to clear confusion about the possible change.

In Coppinger's proposed 2014 budget, about 75 percent of the county's 1,800 employees -- including Coppinger and commissioners -- would be switched from a cushy copay health plan to a co-insurance plan on Aug. 1.

The main difference means employees would have to start meeting annual deductibles for hospital visits and would have to pay 20 percent of costs after that.

Only employees hired before September 2006 will see a significant change. Those hired after already are on the co-insurance plan.

The change is expected to save taxpayers $1.8 million in the next budget year and protect the county from extra fees when some aspects of the Affordable Care Act begin. The current plan would be labeled a "Cadillac policy" and would face federal penalties under the federal health care law, according to Coppinger.

The main point Longshore says she wants to stress to employees is while they will have to meet a $1,000 deductible for surgeries and hospital visits, then pay 20 percent after that, there still is a $2,000 out-of-pocket maximum for single employees under the new plan. That out-of-pocket is $4,000 for family coverage.

"What I don't want is for folks to be panicked that they are going to have a $20,000 insurance bill [for a $100,000 operation], when I know that's not true," Longshore told commissioners.

Coppinger raised the issue, citing "a tremendous amount of misinformation being given to employees," and Commissioner Greg Beck asked why the county wouldn't hold large group meetings to stop "this horrible rumor mill" all at once.

Longshore said large meetings could happen later, but small meetings were more effective.

Small meetings also allow Longshore to address specific issues, she said.

Preventive care will be free under the federal health care law, and employees will not see a change in their copays for doctor's visits or prescription medications, according to Longshore.

Even with the insurance change, health care costs for the county are expected to increase by $3.7 million for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

Contact staff writer Louie Brogdon at lbrogdon@times freepress.com or 423-757-6481. Follow him on Twitter at @glbrogdoniv.