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Commissioners discuss new health plan

By Rose Laudicina
Staff Writer

As part of ongoing budget cuts, the Orange County Board of Commissioners must decide which of several proposed health care plans for county employees provides the best care for employees at the best price for the county. On Tuesday, board members voiced concerns regarding how employees would react to the changes and whether a recommended provider is really the best option.

The current health care plan for county employees provides a variety of benefits at no cost to employees without dependents, while those with dependents have a family-friendly policy, with the county paying a little more than half the cost.

Recently passed budget cuts have forced Orange County officials to look at the services the county provides and assess what services could be reduced and where they could make more cost-efficient choices.

Three new health care options were presented to the board by Mark Browder of Mark III Brokerage, an independent insurance brokerage company that works with multiple counties around North Carolina.

Each plan had two options for employees to chose from, with different combinations of Health Management Organization (HMO), Point Of Service (POS) and Health Savings Account (HSA) health care. In option one, employees would be able to choose between HMO and POS plans and in option two, between HMO and HSA plans. Option three would have employees choose between POS and HSA plans.

Browder recommended that the board strongly consider option three because it is the most cost friendly for employees with dependents.

In addition to switching health care plans, the county will switch their health care provider from CIGNA to United Healthcare Group, which Browder said provided the most competitive rates that fit in with the county’s allotted health care budget.

County Manager Frank Clifton said employees likely won’t be thrilled with the change, since, historically, county employees haven’t paid for health insurance, but that it’s the fault of the county for spoiling its employees.

Katherine Cathey, the interim human resources director for the county, agreed that employees likely won’t be pleased with the change, adding that when talking with employees about the upcoming changes, they clearly want to keep what they have.

“Keeping an HMO with 100 percent paid by the county is just not a viable option,” Cathey said.
Although the board is supposed to vote on a plan at its meeting on Tuesday, Commissioner Barry Jacobs said he isn’t happy with the recommendation to use United Healthcare Group.

Jacobs wants staff to revisit other health care options like CIGNA and Blue Cross Blue Shield, because he has found reviews about United Healthcare Group that are less than flattering.

Browder was quick to defend the United Healthcare Group, saying other counties have been very happy with the company.

“We are not seeing your complaints,” Browder said “We are not seeing what you are reading.”
Browder added that if the county were to go with another provider, it would cost more; however, he said he would do as Jacobs directed and go back to discussing costs with other health care providers.

Commissioner Valerie Foushee urged the board to stick to the proposed timeline so employees will have the maximum amount of time to adjust to the new health care plan, which will go into effect Jan. 1.

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