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County faces rising costs of health care
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Forsyth County News

Forsyth County’s finance committee on Monday reviewed options to reel in growing health care costs.

Medical claims from those on the county’s health care plan are projected to increase about 16 percent in the next year, said Susan Weatherly, a consultant from Northwestern Benefits.

Carriers in the South expect a 12.5 percent increase due to costs, Weatherly said, but high-dollar claimants and emerging users drove up that projection from the county’s current provider, Cigna.

“It’s very concerning to look at the direction we’re going and are we going to be able to sustain the program the way that we have it in place,” Weatherly said. “The county can’t sustain a 16 percent increase here every year.”

Forsyth currently contributes about 92 percent of all plan medical costs, she said. Of more than $11 million in claims last year, the plan members paid about $1 million.

“It’s up to us to determine if that’s the appropriate level, if that’s what we should be doing,” Weatherly said.

Pat Carson, the county’s personnel services director, said a study of 20 Georgia counties showed their average contribution to health care premiums was 76 percent.

Finance Director David Gruen added that in 2018 Forsyth will get excise taxed on its plan if it continues its contributions rates, based on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

Weatherly presented several options to reduce the amount the county spends, including those that wouldn’t necessarily affect employee contributions in 2013.

Switching insurance providers could save thousands in administrative costs, said Weatherly, adding that Blue Cross Blue Shield would cost about $99,000 less than Cigna and Coventry would save about $197,000 from the current plan.

The committee asked to compare Cigna with Coventry, which will soon be purchased by Aetna, at an upcoming commission work session.

The company’s relationship with local providers allows for discounts in health care costs, Weatherly said. When combined with options to employees, they could reduce what the county spends in claims by up to an estimated $5 million.

The benefits provided to employees could be split from a single plan to a dual option, with different levels of deductibles.

In that case, employees could contribute more per paycheck to receive the lower deductible, she said.

The county also plans to institute a wellness program next year, which will allow those who enroll to receive a discount if they participate in regular health screenings, among other initiatives.

The committee also reviewed an option Coventry proposed for employees, in which primary care visits and preventative would be covered, but specialist or other medical costs would not be covered until the deductible is met.