County to switch plans

Health care plan change to Anthem will save about $200,000

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Routt County commissioners voted Monday to change providers for the county's health care plan in an effort to save about $200,000 in a tight budget year.

County commissioners chose to switch to Anthem, which offered a $1.3 million plan, compared with the proposal from Principal, the county's insurance company for the past 10 years, that offered a $1.5 million plan.

The switch gives the county an overall savings compared with 2003, when the county paid $1.65 million for its health benefits plan. But it could present problems in 2005 if the new insurance provider decides to increase costs.

In a year when revenues are down and costs are up because of construction of a court-ordered justice facility, every dollar counts, Routt County Commissioner Doug Monger said.

He pointed out that the county's health benefits package already accounts for more than 15 percent of the $9 million-plus the county receives in property taxes.

Routt County Commissioner Dan Ellison agreed that a solid $200,000 in savings for this year was attractive.

Routt County Commissioner Nancy Stahoviak said the Anthem plan had several potential disadvantages, such as allowing only 20 physical therapy visits a year versus Principal's $3,000 limit on visits. Stahoviak said she was concerned, too, about the potential jump in rates for 2005. But, she said, savings now seemed worth it.

"The situation that we're in financially right now, we need to look at saving dollars wherever we can," Stahoviak said.

Commissioners also elected to switch to Anthem for the county's life insurance and disability benefits because Anthem offered a $50,000 savings compared with this year's rates, while the current provider offered only a $31,000 savings.

Before making their decision, the commissioners heard comments from a roomful of county employees, some who supported the switch and others who did not.

"I'm concerned about seeing us switch to a plan for a dip in the premium this year that offers a co-pay," Routt County Treasurer Jeanne Whiddon said.

"I think we're going to probably hurt ourselves." That comment was countered with acknowledgment that the county's benefit package was decreased for 2003, so some people were more reluctant to visit a doctor because they would have to pay for it out of their pockets.

Routt County Personnel Director Chris Hensen presented comments from other Colorado counties who recently had switched to Anthem or had used the company for a while. Most of the comments were positive, but a common negative comment was that it could be hard to get assistance through the company's toll-free number.

Hensen also said the company works with most of the health care providers that Principal did.

Linda Fossi-Williams, an independent insurance agent who worked with Principal and the county for the past decade, said that Anthem could offer the lower rates because when the county switched, Anthem would pay 10 months of claims and receive a full year of premiums because Principal would be paying some of the lagging claims.

If Anthem raises its rates next year, the county has the opportunity to go back out for bids, Hensen said.

"If we need to do it, we'll be shopping again next year," she said.

-- To reach Susan Bacon, call 871-4203

or e-mail sbacon@steamboatpilot.com

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