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Wednesday, August 25th, 2010

Health care to cost county

'Obamacare' may add $100,000 expense in '11

By Shelley Grieshop
CELINA - The new health care reform bill could cost Mercer County an additional $100,000 next year - an expense that likely will trickle down to insured county workers.
In order to offset the cost of mandated requirements in President Barrack Obama's health care plan, the county must consider increasing employee deductibles, out-of-pocket expenses and worker contributions, county commissioners were told by CoreSource, which processes their employees' insurance claims.
"You could increase employee contributions ... up to more than 10 percent," said Rob Corrigan of CoreSource, who spoke to the commissioners Tuesday via phone.
Commissioners Jerry Laffin, Bob Nuding and John Bruns have until October to decide what changes they'll make to their health care plan for 2011. During the discussion, they made it clear they weren't happy with the new legislation and the affect it will have on their finances and approximately 270 employees.
Laffin said the county was one of the first in the state to put together a progressive wellness plan for its workers. Under the health care reform bill, that program must be funded 100 percent by the county - a mandated financial burden on taxpayers, he said.
"This bothers me ... We've been doing these good things for years, now it isn't enough," he said in disgust.
Mercer County is a member of the Midwest Employee Benefit Consortium, a joint self-insurance program with Auglaize, Hancock, Shelby and Van Wert counties. The counties and their employees all pay into a pool, which is then used to pay insurance claims. No insurance company is involved; CoreSource handles the paperwork.
County officials feel the consortium provides better insurance coverage at a better rate.
CoreSource representative Susan Paul, who met with commissioners Tuesday, recommended they keep what the government will allow of their current insurance plan through a "grandfathered" option, for at least the first year. The plan then can be amended annually to meet the mandates and to accommodate the county's budget, Corrigan added.
"You can keep some of the plan you had in place on March 23 when the legislation passed," Paul explained.
However some changes are mandatory, such as no longer excluding those with pre-existing medical conditions and the removal of maximum lifetime dollar amounts (caps).
Like other insurance administrators, the commissioners must begin complying in 2011 with some of the mandates. One of the changes - extending coverage to older dependents - will cost the county more than $70,000. The federal government is allowing coverage to dependents until the age of 26. The state of Ohio amended the age to 28.
The new health care reform bill is expected to fall into place in the next several years, Paul said.
Another CoreSource representative gave a presentation to commissioners on the impact the health reform plan will have on the county's prescription drug plan. Recommendations to lower costs included changes in deductibles, a push for employees to utilize more generic drugs and mail-order options. The latter idea was met with opposition by county officials who feared it could financially impact local pharmacies.
The county's current net cost for medications averages about $70 per employee per month; more than 60 percent of workers currently choose generic drugs, officials said as they reviewed county data.
"Keep in mind all of this is estimating," Paul said.
Laffin continued to voice his displeasure with the new plan.
"I think people thought the health care reform was going to lower health care costs. That's not going to happen," he said.
Nuding voiced optimism and hope the health care bill would be repealed if a new administration is elected in the future.
"Maybe by then we'll have some common sense in Washington and this whole thing will go away," he said.
Additional online story on this date
Some area school districts will get a chunk of the $4.3 billion in federal Race to the Top funds, according to a U.S. Department of Education announcement on Tuesday. [More]
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