County could cut health costs

Over the past few weeks, Kitsap County officials have managed to all but secure a deal on employee health-care coverage and benefits that could save the county an estimated $750,000 next year.

Although there will still be an increase in medical costs next year under the revamped plans, that increase is expected to drop from 19 percent to about 10 percent.

The deal has yet to be sealed, however.

County Administrator Malcolm Flem-ing said the hope is to execute the health insurance contracts with Group Health and Kitsap Physicians Services by the end of the year — plans that are to affect about 430 non-union employees.

“We want this wrapped up by the end of the year so that it is assured going into 2003,” Fleming said.

The re-negotiation effort with insurance providers has been so successful that county officials say they want to secure similar changes for their union employees, or roughly 770 staff members.

The county has scheduled talks with the unions with that goal in mind, and negotiations are supposed to move forward. There are county budget implications after all.

One of the problems driving the county’s current budget woes is the ever-increasing insurance rates, not to mention the 28 state unfunded mandates and recent voter approval of tax-limiting initiatives.

Since 1998, Kitsap County has totally absorbed the increased costs in health benefit packages, but those times have seemingly screeched to a halt.

With health benefit premiums increasing at a quicker pace than available revenue streams, the county can’t continue in that vein. For instance, four years ago the county paid $296.96 a month in health benefits for every county employee, except for sheriff’s deputies who received a slightly better package.

County budget analysts say that, this year, the same health benefit package would cost the county $719.15 a month for every employee — that’s a total increase of 142 percent.

Under the new medical plans, the rate was trimmed to two options — one to $585 a month per employee, and the other to $564 a month per employee.

In general, the soon-to-be adopted medical plans mainly require employees to plunk down higher co-pays and, in some cases, higher co-insurance rates.

The changes reflected in the medical plans were largely brought about because of suggestions made by county employees themselves, officials said.

Some employees offered to waive coverage through the county. Officials worked with the insurance carriers, and now it’s possible to voluntarily drop county coverage, so long as employees provide the county with proof of alternate medical coverage.

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