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County seeks to rein in health-care costs

March 31, 2009|By HEATHER KEELS

WASHINGTON COUNTY -- Washington County's human resources department is recommending a number of changes to the health benefit plans for county employees, Human Resources Director George W. "Bill" Sonnik III told the Washington County Commissioners Tuesday.

The changes are intended to move employees toward more cost-effective use of their health-care benefits, such as the use of primary care doctors instead of urgent care, and the use of mail-order prescriptions instead of pharmacy pickup for certain drugs.

Overall, the changes would save the county almost $40,000 over what it would cost to continue the current plans, Sonnik said.

However, the total cost of health-care benefits will still go up from the current year because of an increasing frequency of claims and the rising cost of health care, County Administrator Gregory B. Murray said. The county's budget for health benefits will go up about $570,000, or about 7 percent, Sonnik said. The highest coverage levels would cost an additional $67.56 per year, or $2.60 biweekly, he said.

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Employees would still pay only 10 percent of the plan's cost, Sonnik said.

In regard to salaries, the department is recommending a 3 percent cost-of-living allowance increase but no step increases, according to a packet Sonnik distributed after the presentation.

One of the recommended changes to the health benefits is to increase the co-pay for urgent-care visits to $35, Sonnik said. The current co-pay for urgent care is $15 for the Choice Plan and $20 for the Choice Plus plan, he said.

Another change would extend the $100 co-pay for emergency room visits to all emergency room patients, Sonnik said. Currently, patients who are admitted to the hospital after their emergency room visit are not assessed that co-pay, he said.

Sonnik recommended modifying co-pays for three of the most utilized drugs, Allegra, Nexium and Prevacid, to encourage employees to order them through the mail. The new co-pays would be $50 for a 30-day supply at the retail level or $100 for a 90-day supply through the mail. Currently, there is a $35 co-pay for a 30-day supply.

Another change concerns coverage for dependents. Currently, the county requires proof of full-time student status for dependents ages 19 to 23. Sonnik recommended covering dependents up to age 21 without requiring proof of full-time student status, requiring it only for students ages 21 to 23. The change would recognize that more young people are discovering they need to work for a few years before attending college, Murray said.

Sonnik is also recommending adding nutritional counseling, a service that is currently available only out of network, making it very costly.

The county is also hoping to save money by switching to a new provider for its employee assistance program, Sonnik said.

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