County health insurance finances improve

Mesa County’s medical insurance budget is getting closer to being in the black this year after increasing premiums and signing on to an exclusive provider plan with Community Hospital. But estimates for 2015 health care costs indicate the county’s insurance needs are far from solved.

At the end of 2013, the county scrapped a contract with Indiana-based Novia CareClinics, LLC, to offer low-cost, basic health care, prescriptions and lab tests to employees and their families insured through the county. Community Hospital took over offering that service starting Jan. 1 and began an exclusive provider arrangement with the county that discounts services for the county health insurance program if employees use the hospital and Community-affiliated physicians.

The swap saved the county nearly $40,000 in clinic expenses alone during the first three months of 2014 compared to the same period in 2013. And despite an uptick in medical claims this year, Mesa County paid 28 percent less for hospital services year over year in the first three months of 2014 as more county-insured patients visited Community than St. Mary’s to take advantage of the discount plan.

“I think our goal for the EPO is working,” Mesa County Assistant Director of Human Resources Sheryl Coffey told Mesa County commissioners during a medical plan briefing Monday, referring to the exclusive provider arrangement.

Still, total medical and prescription claims cost the county an additional $43,768 in the first quarter of 2014 compared to the first quarter of 2013. A premium increase of 1.6 percent created a lower deficit for the county medical fund so far this year compared to the same period last year, but the deficit is expected to balloon again in 2015 if premiums stay the same, based on historical trends for increasing medical costs.

The county could save more by shutting off its self-insurance program and having the 800 county employees currently covered by their employer seek insurance from Connect for Colorado, also known as the Colorado health care exchange. Paying a penalty for not offering insurance through the county to employees and offering eligible employees $250 a month to help pay for public exchange insurance would cost Mesa County an estimated $4.69 million per year — $810,000 less than it costs the county to offer its current insurance plan. But Coffey said that move would likely cost county employees much more in premiums and deductibles.

“Right now it looks as if what we’re offering now looks like a better choice for our employees,” County Administrator Tom Fisher said.

All three county commissioners agreed they do not seriously anticipate sending employees to the Colorado exchange.

“We need to give the EPO time to work,” Commissioner Rose Pugliese said.


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