By Tim Cox
Health insurance costs for Mercer County's 300 employees are set to rise 25 percent or so, although county commissioners are planning some changes to coverage to curb that projected increase.
County officials met in Findlay on Tuesday with administrators of the Midwest Employee Benefits Consortium (MEBC), the five-county self-insurance pool that includes Mercer, Auglaize, Shelby, Van Wert and Hancock counties. An overall increase of 25 percent was projected for the pool, although some counties will have a higher increase while others face increases of slightly less than 25 percent. The difference in rates among the counties is determined by claims paid in each county over the past few years.
The double-digit increase is the largest Mercer County officials have seen since 2002 when they were socked with a 30 percent hike in the costs to insure its nearly 300 full-time employees.
Commissioner Jerry Laffin said the insurance issue will influence the 2006 budget process.
"Of course it will affect your budget but there are maybe some things we can do to ease that," Laffin said. The county now pays $4,060 annually -- about $338 monthly -- for single coverage plans, toward which employees pay nothing. Family coverage runs the county $10,693 annually -- about $891 monthly -- and employees pay an additional $730 annually toward that coverage.
About 300 employees are covered by the county's health insurance. Cheryl Ann Programs employees contribute toward their coverage at different rates set by the Board of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities.
Commissioners say there are numerous ways they can help ease the financial hit to the county for the increased cost of health coverage.
The coverage could be altered by increasing the deductibles each employee pays for health care before coverage kicks in or by bumping the co-pays for prescription drugs, they said. For every increase of $50 to the single plan deductible and $100 to the family coverage, overall costs fall 0.5 percent, Laffin said.
Still another option would be to increase the employee share of health coverage.
"There's a number of different things we can do but we haven't had a chance to sit down and discuss it yet," Laffin said.
The county did get some good news regarding insurance. The rates for liability insurance are set to fall after the same five counties join a "super pool" that spreads exposure to risk over a larger group, lowering the overall costs. Administrative costs also are cheaper for a larger group.
The county now pays approximately $229,000 annually for its liability insurance coverage.
The new pool, called the Public Entities Risk Corporation, is still being formed and county officials are unsure of exactly how much premiums will be reduced. The PERC super pool is expected to be up and running either Nov. 1 or Dec. 1. The county will then receive a prorated refund of money paid toward its existing coverage.