County to Save $2.8 Million on Health Insurance Over 3 Years With New Plan, Some Concerns Remain

Andrew Trzaska | July 26, 2011

By changing health insurance plans for its current and retired employees, Muskegon County will save 2.8 million on health insurance costs over the next three years.

While the county board did approve this move at their Tuesday meeting, not everyone was happy with the decision.

According to County Administrator Bonnie Hammersley, plan participants can still go to Hackley and Mercy hospitals, can keep their own doctors and have the ability to visit certain out-of-network doctors when out of town.

By the new plan, which is with Priority Health, prescription drug co-pays can be $7, $12 or 50% of the drug cost based on what drug it is and whether it is on the company’s formulary.

District 10 Commissioner Ben Cross voted against the proposal in committee and again on Tuesday after expressing his distaste for the word “comparable”, used to describe the costs for employees between the current plan and the new one.

Cross stated that costs were deemed “comparable” at his place of work but saw costs rise.

“If the insurance company doesn’t pick up the burden, employees will.”

Other county commissioners supported the deal.

District 7’s Scott Plummer saw it as a jobs issue.

At an average salary of $60,000, this could save around 40 jobs according to County Administrator Bonnie Hammersley.

Plummer believes that possibly holding onto 40 county jobs is worth the switch and blamed some of the changes recent federal health care legislation.

“We aren’t the bad people here. This is forced upon us more by Washington.  If I can save jobs, [expletive], I’m going to do this.”

Board chair and District 1 commissioner Ken Mahoney tried to ease concerns with the new plan, including those from a county government retiree who asked about increases in prescription drug costs in the proposal.

“We attempted to do the best we can with the money we have.”

In the end, Cross and District 8 commissioner Anthony Longmire voted against the health insurance proposal.

On a related note, two dental insurance plans were passed at Tuesday’s meeting and received some dissent as well.

Proposals for Humana Specialty Benefits and Ameritas dental plans for active and retired employees, respectively, were passed 9-1.

District 2 commissioner Alan Jager was the lone no vote.

The dental plan’s obligations fall more on the county and less on the employee than the health insurance proposals; Jager noted that employees should be picking up a bigger share.

“We [employees] should be helping to pay this price.”

Jager was the sole no vote on the dental proposals.

Andrew Trzaska

103.7 “The Beat” – local government beat reporter and political analyst