LACONIA — Belknap County Commissioners are leaning strongly towards switching health insurance plans for county employees from the current provider, Health Trust, to the New Hampshire Interlocal Trust, which partners with the non-profit Harvard Pilgrim Healthcare to provide group health insurance plans for local governments.
Commissioners would like to make the change starting January 1, 2016 and have asked Albert Jones, president of NH Interlocal Trust, to return to them with a revised proposal which will include an upgraded Wellness plan which would make it comparable to the Health Trust wellness program.
Commissioner Hunter Taylor (R-Alton) said that with the exception of the wellness program the Interlocal Trust benefits are ''definitely comparable'' with current benefits.
Under terms of the current contacts with three State Employee Association affiliated unions at the Belknap County Home, Corrections Department and Sheriff's Department, the county has the right to substitute a comparable health care plan for an existing plan provided the unions agree that the new plan is comparable.
''I'd like to have it (the Wellness plan) when we make the request to substitute the new plan as of January 1. We need to allow for an orderly consideration of the change by the SEA,'' said Taylor when commissioners discussed the issue at last Wednesday's meeting.
Albert Jones, president of the Interlocal Trust, who at a commission meeting on August 5 had projected savings of $14,000 a month for the county presented revised numbers which he said would produce $156,000 in annual savings on county health insurance costs.
County Administrator Deb Shackett presented her own cost comparison between the plans, which showed a $136,919.92 annual savings.
Her figures showed the monthly savings for the 42 one-person HMO plans currently provided by the county to be $2,005.08 per month. Savings on the 29 two-person plans currently provided would amount to $2,738.76 per month and monthly savings on 43 family plans provided would be $5,551.73.
Smaller savings would be realized through the site-of-service plan, which has only 10 people enrolled, two in one-person plans, four in two-person plans and four in family plans. The total savings amount to a little over $1,100 a month.
The county recently received a $250,000 refund from the Health Trust and commissioners had been waiting to receive that refund before considering switching insurers, as it would not have been eligible for the refund had it switched earlier.
Commissioner DeVoy had pushed for a quicker switch due to his concerns that the county might run short of funds to cover health insurance costs in this year's budget, leading to higher costs and potential layoffs. A 60-day notice to the unions of the proposed change of insurers is required according to Shackett, who said that most that could be saved this year would be $11,409.41.
Taylor said that there was a possibility that the switch of health insurers could wind up in court and that waiting until January 1 to make the change would give the commissioners time to have the issue resolved in court.
DeVoy said that he was also concerned about what might happen if the county convention continued to hold county health insurance costs level with previous years, which several legislators have seen as necessary in order to force the unions to agree to having workers pay a larger share of their health insurance costs.
Last month the Belknap County Convention approved a collective bargaining agreement between Teamsters Local 633 and the county by a 10-5 vote.
The vote provides a 1.4 percent pay raise as well as step increases for the 23 mid-level managers represented by the union, which are based on individual performance reviews, and would increase total compensation by 4.4 percent by those who qualify.
In return the union members agreed to switch to a less expensive site of service health care plan which will lower health care costs for the county.
A cost summary of the contract shows health insurance costs for the covered employees dropping from $336,433 this year to $322,543, a $13,890 decline, and from $356,881 next year to $300,400, a $56,481 decline.
DeVoy said that the agreement provides for $1,000, $2,000 and $3,000 deductibles on single , two-person and family plans for which the county will now pay the entire bill, which reduces the amount the county pays for the current HMO plan by as much as $4,000. Currently employees pay 5 to 6.5 percent of the premiums for the HMO plans.
Among those who voted against the plan was Rep. Brian Gallagher of Sanbornton, who said that he liked the plan but thought that the county should have not shouldered the entire bill.
Commissioners have sought to get the other three county unions to agree to switch to a site of service plan. They recently met with union representatives to lay the groundwork for future negotiations.