Branch County approves plan to reduce employee health insurance costs

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Branch County Commissioners waived their rules Thursday to allow Administrator Bud Norman to formally request a cheaper Simply Blue program addition to the county’s health insurance plan.

The plan will allow for higher deductibles of $250 to $8,000. Still, it could reduce annual premiums by $200 to $4,000 per year depending on individual or family coverage and the plan purchased.

Due to low deductibles, a “rich plan,” and increased utilization in 2021, total county health premiums for less than 100 covered employees increased by $500,000 in 2020. Some people saw their premiums increase by 65%

The commissioners plan to use American Rescue Pan funds to subsidize employee costs this year. This decision is still open.

Norman received the latest ARPA usage requests for $8.4 million this week. Commissioners will soon establish their priorities.

The administrator said the general funds could not be used. This would violate the county’s “hard cap” contributions enacted under state law. Only one union refused to accept the new insurance program. He didn’t name it.

If Blue Cross/Blue Shield agrees to add the Simply Blue options, there will be a new registration open for three weeks in April.

Payroll deductions would begin in May and coverage for those who switch would change in June. Changes and costs cannot be made retroactive.

The new optional plan is available to all employees. Norman said the county will continue to evaluate insurance coverage for 2023.

District Judge Brent Weigle and his administrator, Norman, and Sheriff John Pollack formed an insurance committee. These departments were the most affected. The commission added treasurer Steve Rutz to the group because of his previous expertise in insurance. Norman doesn’t want more members, which makes him unwieldy.

The court and sheriff lost staff due to the rising cost of health insurance, especially for low-wage new Tier II recruits. The high cost of health insurance also makes it difficult to fill vacancies.

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