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Bring in a neutral agency to eye Berkeley insurance

July 31, 2000

Bring in a neutral agency to eye Berkeley insurance



After learning that Mountain State Blue Cross & Blue Shield was going to raise its rates 19 percent, officials of Berkeley County, W.Va., opted for a self-insurance plan instead, after being assured that would give them the same coverage for less money.

That idea sounds improbable, and some county employees say the numbers show they and their families will get less coverage under the new plan. There's been some talk of a lawsuit, but before that happens, we suggest that an agency with no stake in the outcome - and no ties to either side - provide an objective analysis of the new plan.

Under the new plan, the county would pay employee claims itself, up to a certain level, at which an Illinois insurer named Claredon would take over.

Jeff Gibson of Gibson & Associates, which brokered the new plan, said the new coverage "mirrors" the old. But Christopher Quaesbarth, an assistant county prosecutor, disagrees. At a meeting last Thursday, Quaesbarth passed out sheets which he said showed that coverage will be more costly to employees under the new plan.

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Quaesbarth also said that some county employees were concerned, and that there was some talk they might file a lawsuit. That irritated Commissioner Robert Burkhart, who said he didn't care for his attitude, or for the threat of a lawsuit.

We would be surprised if Berkeley County workers' employment agreements guaranteed them a certain specific medical plan, but the lack of a guarantee wouldn't preclude a lawsuit.

But we oppose such lawsuits on principle, because government gets sued, it's the taxpayers who ultimately will pay. It would be better for all concerned if there were some mediation of this dispute, starting with an evaluation of both insurance plans.

Who might do such an analysis? A state agency, perhaps, or a retired insurance agent with no stake in the outcome. Whichever it is, such an approach will be better than what the county has now - the two sides snapping at each other and insisting that their numbers are the right ones.

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