Routt health costs jump

Commissioners may choose insurance provider today

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After changing health insurance providers last year to save about $200,000, Routt County commissioners today may change providers again, facing increased costs no matter which provider they choose.

If the county changes to Pacificare, its health insurance costs would increase by 16 percent, or $220,000, to $1.6 million.

If the county sticks with Anthem, which it switched to last year from longtime provider Principal, its insurance costs would increase by 29 percent to $1.75 million.

The county has budgeted a 20 percent increase for health insurance in 2005, so it would have to find a way to make up any increase over that.

Routt County Personnel Director Chris Hensen presented the bids and a recommendation, which came from a committee of county employees that examined the health insurance plans, to switch to Pacificare.

The plans from Pacificare, Hensen said, were richer in many ways than proposed plans from Anthem and other providers that gave the county bids.

County employees packed the meeting room, and a common complaint with the proposed plans from Pacificare was a lack of coverage for physical therapy.

County employee Carl Dunham said it was a downfall if employees had to pay a deductible before getting coverage for physical therapy.

"That's not a good deal, and it's not being healthy," Dunham said.

County employee Carol Comeau agreed that having physical therapy benefits was important. She said she also was worried that the county might have to switch providers again next year.

"So are we going to be looking again?" Comeau asked. "Because at some point, it's going to catch up to us."

Hensen replied that the county's intention was not to switch health insurance providers again and again, but that it wanted to go out to bid again this year because of problems with Anthem. The county was hoping to find a company that would provide better customer service, better coverage of prescription drugs and other improvements.

Routt County received four bids for health insurance plans from United Health Care, Rocky Mountain Health Plan, Pacificare and County Technical Services County Health Pool, as well as a bid from this year's provider, Anthem.

It seriously considered bids from Pacificare and Rocky Mountain Health Plan, the latter of which would be a 25 percent increase in the county's total cost of insurance.

Increased costs could result from several factors, such as claims and administrative costs, and trends such as where the health insurance industry is heading.

Also key is that the first year a new company provides insurance coverage typically is less expensive, as the previous company continues to pay off claims so the new company only has to cover about nine months of claims.

Routt County commissioners could decide on a health care insurance provider at 1:45 p.m. today in the Commissioners Hearing Room in the Courthouse Annex.

-- To reach Susan Cunningham, call 871-4203 or e-mail sbacon@steamboatpilot.com

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