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Berkeley County mulls insurance plan

July 31, 2000

Berkeley County mulls insurance plan



By ANDREW SCHOTZ / Staff Writer, Martinsburg


MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Berkeley County's attempt to change its employees' insurance coverage has been turbulent and expensive.

County officials say that Mountain State Blue Cross and Blue Shield, which the county has used for three years, is raising its rates 19 percent. The county hoped to switch to a self-insurance plan four months ago.

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However, county employees have questioned the new plan. They have said that the new coverage doesn't match the old, despite a promise that it would. If the County Commission goes ahead with the move, it might get sued, one county employee cautioned last week.

Jeff Gibson of Gibson & Associates in Martinsburg, who brokered the new insurance coverage plan, said Sunday that the critics are misinformed. Gibson said the new coverage "mirrors" the old coverage, just as he promised.

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Skeptics have been quoting the wrong figures, using a plan unrelated to the county's new coverage, said Gibson, who was out of town Thursday and missed a County Commission meeting where concerns were aired.

As the County Commission works to appease its doubting employees, the costs are adding up. Gibson said that Berkeley County has wasted about $5,800 each month it has stayed with Mountain State Blue Cross and Blue Shield.

"It's been a mess," he concluded.

Under the new plan, the county would pay employees' claims, up to certain levels. For amounts above those thresholds, Claredon, an Illinois insurance company, would take over, Gibson said.

A Martinsburg firm, Panhandle Claim Administrators, would collect premiums, he said.

Normally, Gibson said, there would be fewer choices of providers in the new plan, but he has made sure that none of the providers in the Mountain State Blue Cross and Blue Shield plan are excluded.

"They don't realize what a good health plan they have," he said.

After months of delays, the County Commission was scheduled on Thursday to commit to the switch, effective Aug. 1.

But Christopher Quasebarth, an assistant county prosecutor, said the new plan has substantial changes in coverage.

On a summary of benefits for Mountain State Blue Cross and Blue Shield, Quasebarth wrote in the corresponding benefits in the new coverage. He passed out copies of the comparisons.

There were a host of changes. For example, the non-network deductible would have risen from $250 to $500 for an individual and from $500 to $1,500 for a family, according to Quasebarth's notes. The non-network co-payment limit would have gone up from $1,250 to $3,000 for an individual and from $3,000 to $9,000 for a family.

Quasebarth said that several employees were concerned and there was "some talk" that they might sue the commission.

The County Commissioners tabled the switch because of the uncertainty. Commissioner Robert Burkhart said the commissioners had also been assured that the new plan would match the old one.

"I'm just as concerned as you are because I'm a county employee, too," he said.

As a result, the county is staying with Mountain State Blue Cross and Blue Shield through August.

Burkhart went on to chastise Quasebarth, though, for the way he fought the change, including the threat of a lawsuit.

"The problem I have is your attitude. It's been negative," Burkhart said.

Figures were not available Thursday on how much the county spends on its insurance.

According to Burkhart, the county pays for insurance for about 150 employees. County Administrator Deborah Sheetenhelm-Hammond noted that many of those employees pay for family coverage.

Gibson said Quasebarth wrongly "put the pressure" on the County Commission. "He's trying to make a big deal out of nothing," Gibson said.

At a series of informational meetings with county employees about three weeks ago, it was made clear that there were no changes in coverage, Gibson said.

Quasebarth was unavailable for comment on Sunday, but Prosecuting Attorney Pamela Games-Neely said Quasebarth's comparative figures were based on documents Gibson gave out.

The information the employees received indicated, for example, that coverage of many non-network services would have dropped from 80 percent to 60 percent, Games-Neely said.

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