County eyes bids on health insurance

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Routt County is considering bids from five insurance companies that could potentially let the county and its employees pay lower premiums but keep the benefits they have now.

"If everything works out, we should be doing very well," Routt County Manager Tom Sullivan said.

Some bids could result in a lower overall cost for the benefits, Sullivan said. One bid came in at $500,000 less than what the county pays now, a substantial sum that could be used to offset other costs, such as that of the new justice center.

Representatives from Benefit Management and Design, a health benefits consulting group based in Denver, will present proposals from several companies to county commissioners today.

The group was hired by the county for the 2004 renewal and began work in June, Routt County Personnel Director Chris Hensen said. The county agreed to pay them up to $14,475.

"We felt like it was time to bring in somebody with an unbiased eye to take a look at this, rather than just going to an agent or a broker who's selling their own products," Hensen said.

The county has bought health benefits from the Principal Financial Group since the early 1990s and felt it was time to see what else the market offers, Hensen said.

Last year, a 30 percent increase required by the company was too high for county employees, so the county restructured its health insurance plan.

Now employees can choose from paying a high monthly premium with yearly deductibles and out-of-pocket maximum payments similar to the year before, or can pay a nominal amount each month for a higher deductible and higher out-of-pocket maximum payments.

To keep a plan similar to last year's, with a $1,500 annual deductible and out-of-pocket maximum of $6,000 per family, an employee has to pay $191.16 a month to supplement the $752.07 the county already is covering.

Or, that employee could cover his or her family by paying $2 a month for a plan with a $3,000 deductible and out-of-pocket maximum of $9,000.

The change encourages employees to be responsible about their health care uses, Sullivan said, and the county's benefits consultants have said the change was a smart one.

"Our consultants thought we moved in the right direction as far as managing health care costs," he said.

"That's a direction that has been taken across the state and across the country," he said later.

The county's benefits program costs the county about $1.6 million last year, Hensen said. This year, 240 employees are covered.

After learning about bids from companies today, county commissioners could set a timeline for making decisions about which plan to accept.

-- To reach Susan Bacon, call 871-4203

or e-mail sbacon@steamboatpilot.com

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