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County budget changes

Kitsap County Commissioners this week officially approved the establishment of an individual self-insurance health and benefits program for county employees and retired sheriff’s office deputies.

It’s a move that officials estimate will save the county $12.5 million during the next six years.

Penny Starkey, Kitsap County Human Resources manager, noted that advantages include lower administrative costs, greater control over the design of the benefits program, easier access to utilization and claims data, improvements in the ability to evaluate health benefit costs and implement cost containment measures, improved cash flow generated by keeping funds in-house until needed for payment of claims and avoidance of state insurance premium taxes.

Starkey also said that employees won’t see much of a difference in the way that they get their benefits and the county will still work with Group Health and Primera.

“One thing that will not happen if we go to this self-funded program is our employees will see no difference in the offering of their benefits or accessing their benefits,” Starkey said.

Starkey also noted that a self insurance approach is not new to Kitsap County, as workers compensation, risk management and unemployment insurance are all self-funded programs. She also said that several other Washington cities and counties already have self-insurance health and benefits programs in place.

Starkey noted that under the new model, some of the savings that will be realized are due to the fact that the county won’t have to pay a 2 percent premium tax or a .5 percent Washington state health insurance pool tax.

“By the county taking on this responsibility, not only are we not paying these surcharges or taxes on the premiums, but what we’re also not doing is paying the insurance companies basically the benefit of holding our money,” said Commissioner Josh Brown.

Brown also said that the “self-insurance change is going to have a profound impact on our organization for the better” and noted that a tremendous amount of work went into making the change.

“When we’re in our evening meetings  adopting a complicated item like this, it may only take us a few minutes to make a motion and adopt it, but I think just on this one item, let alone all the other labor and benefits issues that we deal with, the board spends countless hours in executive session working through these issues and meeting with our staff — countless (hours),” he said.

In supporting the new insurance scheme, commissioner Charlotte Garrido noted that the new approach still protects employees and their coverage.

Commissioner Rob Gelder also said that the change is the right thing to do for county employees and the right thing to do by way of saving money for taxpayers.

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