Commissioners decided the grass wasn’t necessarily greener on the other side pertaining to retiree medical insurance.

The Orange County Commissioners Court approved staying with the Blue Cross/Blue Shield plan for county employee retirees at their regular meeting on June 8. The courtroom was packed with retirees and there were some lengthy discussions at the meeting.

County Judge Brint Carlton introduced possibly going to the Silver Plan supplemental plan which has a Tier 4 plan.

Carlton said there would be no change in the retirees’ insurance and it was a proposal.

Barry Burton, Precinct 3 commissioner, asked for “a lot of data from TAC (Texas Association of Counties).” He then asked if the data was complete in which Carlton answered it was not.

Minnie Hightower, county HR director, said no counties have switched back from the Silver Plan to Blue Cross/Blue Shield. She added she has received  no Tier 4 data from TAC.

Tier 4 pertains to prescription drugs as the following:

Tier 1 is usually includes generic medications are at the lowest cost.

Tier 2 is usually preferred name medications and are mid-range cost along with Tier 3.

Tier 3 is usually non-preferred name medications.

Tier 4 is usually specialty medications are at the highest cost.

John Banken, Precinct 3 commissioner, told Hightower she keeps talking about other counties but he’s concerned about Orange County employees. He gave as an example a retiree may need a kidney transplant and Tier 4 medications.

“We have a moral obligation to take care of the employees who have worked here 25 to 30 years,” Banken said.

Hightower said some counties don’t offer insurance.

Banken replied it’s not the time to do away with what the county has to offer. He favored leaving the Blue Cross/Blue Shield plan as it is for this year.

Carlton said Banken is not alone in caring about employees and retirees.

“We’re not talking about changing,” he said.

Banken said it would break some of the retirees with the Tier 4 medication.

David Dubose said it’s a promise the commissioners made to the retirees and if there is a change to be made, it needs to be before they retire and not after they retire.

“We need more research. It’s time not to change it,” Dubose said.

Jody Crump, Precinct 4 commissioner, said TAC will not implement Tier 4 this year, but they will probably implement it next year. Burton echoed the sentiment: “It’s coming.”

Carlton said the court should discuss those who have not yet retired or who haven’t started working for the county.

“We have financial problems and we have to make changes somewhere,” he said.

Banken answered the commissioner have passed up other opportunities to save money and he doesn’t want to do it “on the backs of the retirees.”

“We keep hiring and hiring. We hire someone and when you total everything it’s $100,000 a year,” he said.

Judge Pat Clark retired from the county and was in attendance for the meeting. He said it was not on the agenda to discuss active employees and the agenda item was for retirees.

Burton thought it was about semantics and whether retirees meant retirees specifically or the retirement community in general. Crump said he agreed with Burton’s assessment.

A vote was then taken to either discuss the issue versus taking no action. The motion failed and the discussion continued.

Hightower said there are currently 126 county employee retirees and switching to the Silver Plan would save the county $221,000 a year.

Carlton said not every retiree will need the plan.

Banken said a person could be healthy today but they can’t tell if they will need medications.

“Look at the data from the last 20 years,” he said.

Dubose said the plan is not fair to everyone and it may cause someone to be destitute.

District Clerk Vickie Edgerly said from the audience she’s on medication for seizures and it cost her $3,000. Even a five percent increase would be a tremendous cost.

“There are some very basic medications on the list,” she said.

Clark said he doesn’t understand why the commissioners were having the discussion since they recently had a meeting with retirees at the Orange County Expo and Convention Center about the topic.

“Is there anything in writing? We could cut down a lot of discussion if we could see the comparison,” Clark said. “How much money will the county save on the backs of the retirees?”

He said county employees were told during their working years they have the job and the benefits that come with it when they retired.

“Some have been here for decades. Why would you take that away? Why change now?” he asked.

Burton said no one is taking anything away. There getting something different.

“It’s not a cross the board negative,” he said.

Dubose said he disagreed and it is taking away from some. Burton replied there are some positives to the plan.

Dubose said when Tier 4 comes around next year, the commissioners would then be comparing apples to apples.

Retiree Jean Parker said cancer is prevalent in the area and there is a potential to be on Tier 4 medication.

“It’s an unknown,” she said.

Carlton said he has a duty to the 82,000 citizens in the county.

Clark said the commissioners court was not ready to vote on the issue because they do not have enough information.

“Why take action?” Clark asked.

Banken then made a motion to make no changes at the time to the Blue Cross/Blue Shield plan. Dubose seconded the motion.

“We’re not comparing it equally,” Dubose said before the vote.

The vote was unanimous not to change to the Silver Plan.

Commissioners voted on a similar matter for active employees’ insurance at the March 30 meeting. In the end, commissioners decided to stick with the Texas Association of Counties (TAC) for another year in insuring its assets after Carlton introduced going out for bids in the private marketplace for insurance coverage.

The vote was 3 to 2 with Precinct 1 Commissioner David Dubose, Precinct 3 Commissioner John Banken and Precinct 4 Commissioner Jody Crump casting the deciding vote not to go with proposals from the private market and staying with TAC, and Carlton and Precinct 2 Commissioner Barry Burton voting to go with the private insurers.

The agenda item read for the discussion and possible action regarding Orange County going out for bids on the county’s insurance coverage for the following: auto liability, auto physical damage, general liability, property, crime, worker’s compensation, law enforcement coverage, public officials coverage and cybersecurity.

In other county business, Carlton issued a proclamation declaring June, 2015 as Men’s Health Month.

Gift of Life and Baptist Hospitals of Southeast Texas will offer free men’s healthcare screenings from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. on Saturday, June 20 at the Wilson Building at Lamar State College-Orange. Other locations are from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. on Saturday, June 6 at the Carl Parker Center at Lamar State College-Port Arthur, and from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. on Saturday, June 13 at the Lamar Institute of Technology in Beaumont.

The free healthcare screenings include: PSA blood test for prostate cancer screening, cholesterol, HIV, blood pressure, Hepatitis C, blood sugar check and on-site physician consultation.

There will also be lunch, door prizes and refreshments.

To find out if you’re eligible, call 409-860-3369.

The commissioners encouraged men to be screened.

Commissioners received information from Johnny Trahan of Entergy and Michael Martinez of Clear Result about possible energy efficiency projects for the county that are available through Entergy and third parties.

Martinez said his company offers a free service provided by Entergy called the Energy Efficiency Program. Clear Result representatives would do a walk-through of facilities with outside third party contractors.

“We work with the contractors and make recommendations,” he said.

For example, they may suggest lighting, quantify savings and prioritizing projects and then give a report.

“We work hand-in-hand with the maintenance department. We’re vendor-neutral. You’re already enrolled when you applied three years ago,” he said.

Martinez added he spoke with Kirk Guidry, maintenance supervisor about countywide projects. He said there will be some differences in numbers with contractors, but in the end, they should be very close.

Ken Morris with Way Services, a contractor, said they each do their won calculations and write the check for the differences.

Commissioners approved leasing office space in the Mauriceville County Building to State Rep. Dade Phelan for $350 per month.

Burton said Phelan wants a local presence in Orange County.

Also approved was allowing the Boy Scouts of America Troop 1 and Troop 62 to provide a pancake breakfast for a fly-in on June 27 at the Orange County Airport to work on their Aviation Merit Badge.

Photo – Christina Morris with Gift of Life receives a proclamation declaring June, 2015 as Men’s Health Month at their meeting on June 8. Gift of Life and Baptist Hospitals of Southeast Texas will offer free men’s healthcare screenings from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. on Saturday, June 20 at the Wilson Building at Lamar State College-Orange.

RECORD PHOTO: David Ball