Buckhannon votes to change insurance plan

Tawney

BUCKHANNON — The City of Buckhannon will move to a partially self-insured insurance plan with a new agent instead of maintaining its policy with Blue Cross/Blue Shield of West Virginia through Loudin Insurance.

Mayor David McCauley proposed keeping the insurance through Loudin Insurance but making several other changes during a special city council meeting called Thursday. However, after an hour and half of discussion and another presentation from agent Chris Tawney of Tawney Insurance in Lewisburg, council voted to go with the partially self-insured insurance plan.

Councilman Dave Thomas made a motion that council accept the proposal from Tawney and eliminate the GAP coverage with Morgan-White.

“I think the potential savings is very significant and if it does not work out for us, at least we will have more information to go out in the insurance market again a year later,” Thomas said.

Councilman Robbie Skinner seconded the motion but then amended the motion to just accept Chris Tawney’s proposal and eliminating the GAP coverage.

While Skinner said he agreed with the rest of McCauley’s proposal, he suggested bringing three through six relative to spousal carve-outs for future city employees, a tiering of health insurance benefits for new hires, a moratorium on new full-time employees save for one job council is interviewing for now and making the insurance committee permanent to the June 6 meeting where council could continue to get questions answered.

The motion passed 4-0. Councilwoman Mary Albaugh was absent. McCauley did not vote on the motion as he said the mayor does not have to vote.

Afterwards, McCauley said, “Originally when we were looking at a 7 to 9 percent increase for Blue Cross Blue Shield of what he originally quoted us, the savings would have been somewhere in the $160,000-$180,000 range. But when (Blue Cross/Blue Shield) came back and reduced everything to the previous year, that was going to save us another $100,000-plus. The savings we are going to realize now is more meager compared to what it originally was before Blue Cross/Blue Shield came back.”

An insurance committee that included McCauley, Skinner, Thomas, director of finance and administration Amberle Jenkins and Barb Helmick met over the past few weeks to explore insurance changes.

In a mayor’s statement that McCauley read at the beginning of the meeting, he said the two most compelling elements of the exercise were management of increasing premium costs that have increased about $300,000 during the past seven years and maintaining the best health insurance possible for city employees within fiscal constraints.

Relative to the GAP coverage, McCauley had proposed eliminating the GAP coverage with Morgan-White and going entirely with Blue Cross /Blue Shield with a modest premium increase of about $14,000 for the entire year. This would eliminate a sometimes confusing two-card method for city employees.

Skinner said, “I’m good with three through six of this proposal. I’m not good with one or two and I will tell you why. We have consistently accepted increase after increase after increase of health insurance premiums since myself and many other council members have set at these desks preparing for our budget.

“I’ve also heard from several different employees that the health insurance set-up we have currently is not easy to use and the payout from Morgan-White is confusing or it does not work period.

“Your proposal suggests that we eliminate that, but that comes at a cost of increasing the premium even more so than what is already on the table by $14,000. The proposal we received from Tawney insurance includes a partially self-funded mechanism.

“This would allow us to join other groups of cities and government bodies…. at the tune of 9,000 individuals. It’s not just based on the City of Buckhannon, it’s based on a large group of people that can also help us when it comes to the premium.”

Skinner said the expected premium annually with Tawney’s proposal was $873,000 — a “very large savings.”

“If we do not accept that proposal, I do not believe we are acting in the most responsible and the most fiscally conservative way we possibly can for the people, the taxpayers and the businesses that pay for these coverages for our employees.”

Skinner also said he felt the city owed its employees the best coverage they can provide.

“I believe the product that Chris has outlined can be far better understood by our employees and far more user-friendly by our employees,” he said. “We have a fiduciary responsibility to do the very best we can for our taxpayers and by our employees. We say all the time we appreciate what our employees do for us. This is an opportunity for us to show them that we appreciate them by providing them a coverage that is excellent and also providing our taxpayers with a premium that doesn’t break the bank.”

Thomas called the process frustrating for him and noted the city had used Loudin Insurance for 32 years but he felt the city should try the partially self funded risk pool.

“The thing that really bothers me the most is (Blue Cross/Blue Shield) came in with a quote and not until we were saying we were going to look at other opportunities did they come in $100,000 less than what they had suggested,” he said.

McCauley said there are some risks with the risk pool and noted that Bridgeport and Clarksburg municipal governments have left their risk pools and the Upshur County Commission is exploring leaving as well.

“I really like this idea of this insurance committee looking long and hard at PEIA coverage next year where we believe we would save even more money than we would with the two proposals we have,” he said.

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