Tommy Mann Jr. – For The Record

County Commissioners endured a marathon meeting on Monday and made a few changes to employee insurance and future retiree benefits.

Orange County Commissioners met in a special meeting this past Monday morning to address the county’s employee health insurance plan and to discuss options on potential benefit changes regarding future retirees of the county.

According to Orange County Judge Stephen Brint Carlton, each year Commissioners Court must decide whether to renew the existing health insurance plan for county employees or to adopt a new plan. This year the county judge and commissioners reviewed the current plan, as well as seven alternative plans.

“We narrowed it down to the current plan we have with Blue Cross Blue Shield and an alternative plan from Blue Cross Blue Shield as well,” Carlton said. “The total amount was going up for the county either way, as the current plan had a higher premium for the county and employees, but the alternative plan was about $160,000 cheaper for the county.”

Under the current plan, the cost for an employee and spouse would be $426 per month but under the new plan the cost would be $404 per month. A plan for the employee and family would be $758 under the current plan, while the new plan would cost an employee and family $719 per month.

The current plan for county employees is a four-tier plan which allows coverage for employee only, employee and spouse, employee and children or a plan for the whole family. The new plan will be a five-tier plan.

“The main difference with the new plan we approved will have an option for employee and one child and another for employee and two or more children. Many insurance plans do not differentiate between one child or two or more children plans, so some employees could potentially see a small savings.

Another change with the new plan compared to the current plan is that it has an increase of $500 to the employee deductible. Under the current plan, the employee has a $2,000 deductible per year for procedures and other qualifying events. That will now increase to $2,500 per year.

Previously, the co-pay portion under the current plan is $35 for a doctor’s visit and $45 for a specialist. The new plan increases each option by $5.

The county utilizes a three tier plan for prescriptions as well, and, depending on which tier employees use, this will have an increase as well.

The current plan, which expires Sept. 30, has rates of $10, $25 and $40, respectively, but under the new plan those rates will now be $10, $30 and $50.

The motion was approved by a vote of 3-2 with Commissioner David Dubose of Precinct 1 and Commissioner John Banken of Precinct 3 voting against changing insurance plans.

Commissioners Court also discussed any potential changes it might make in regards to health insurance contributions rates for employees, dependents and retirees.

“The court needs to review what its contribution is each year for employees, dependents and retirees, whether it makes any changes or not,” Carlton explained.

Overall there were no changes made as the county will continue to contribute 100 percent for employees, 40 percent of the monthly premium for dependents, 60 percent of monthly premiums for members of the collective bargaining association as stipulated by contract and zero percent for dependents of county retirees, which is same as previous year.

Carlton said commissioners also discussed whether to change its contribution for retirees based on years of service to county. As it stands currently, the county pays 100 percent. After much discussion, commissioners opted to leave the system as it currently is.

Commissioners approved this agenda item unanimously.

Commissioners also discussed whether to make changes to the Orange County retiree health benefits plan for future employees of the county.

Currently, an employee can qualify for retirement with as little as eight years of service to the county, depending on age and years of service in another field, such as military service or employment with another county as examples. An employee can also qualify for health insurance benefits upon retirement after 20 years of service regardless of age.

Carlton said it was he who requested this item be on the agenda and originally his recommendation was that future employees of Orange County would only qualify for retiree benefits after 20 years of service with the county. However, the motion failed to gain approval by a 3-2 vote.

Commissioner Barry Burton of Precinct 2 made the recommendation of a tiered program. A future retiree with eight years of service would receive 25 percent of retiree health benefits, 12 years of service would receive 50 percent, 16 years of service would receive 75 percent and 20 years or more would result in 100 percent of retiree health benefits.

This service is strictly relegated to time served with Orange County and not combined with other time served. It would go into effect on Oct. 1, 2016 and all current employees and those hired no later than Sept. 30, 2016, would be included in the current system in place.

This plan was approved by a 3-2 vote.

In other news, the county kept the Wellness Incentive Program in place as it is currently and will waive the $40 surcharge for this year only for employees and spouses. However, in 2017, there will be a $25 surcharge for employee spouses who do not complete the program.

“Unfortunately, Orange County is the number one county in the state for chronic illnesses and that’s a fact,” Carlton said. “Our claims were $1 million more than what we paid in premiums last year to Blue Cross Blue Shield, which is why our insurance rates are eight-and-a-half percent higher than last year.”

Carlton said it takes three to five years see any differences in insurance costs based on the wellness incentive program, which is just now entering its second year.

“The healthier we are, the lower those rates will be,” he added. “So, if we can get everyone to be more proactive in what we are doing, then maybe we will see lower costs in the future.”