County working out details on health insurance
by Sarah Fay Campbell
Changing health insurance benefits for Coweta County employees and retirees was a topic of conversation at Tuesday’s meeting of the Coweta County Board of Commissioners.
Coweta County Sheriff’s Office Investigators Mark Callahan and Ryan Foles spoke during the public comment section of the meeting.
At the May 29 commission work session, when possible changes were first discussed, Commissioner Rodney Brooks said he would like to have some meetings for county employees to understand the proposals.
Foles asked if any of those meetings had been scheduled.
“There are no plans at this time,” said County Administrator Michael Fouts. Information will be communicated to employees before a decision is made on actual changes, officials said.
“No decision has been made yet,” said Commissioner Tim Lassetter. “There have been a lot of questions.”
Lassetter believes some department heads had been speaking with their employees. However, “since no decision has been made, nothing has been carried back for discussions.”
“We have received feedback,” said Fouts.
“I think we kind of got our wires crossed,” said commission Chairman Bob Blackburn. “A conceptual idea was brought forth, just conceptual. Now we are moving forward, trying to get a very workable plan.”
Brooks said he’d wanted feedback from everybody and “I think that has taken place.”
“I can assure you … before any action is taken at any meeting, the employees will be fully aware” of what will be voted on, Brooks said.
Lassetter said there have been “numerous comments, e-mails, phone calls made.” He said some of the things that were brought up had been discussed already, but some were new ideas.
Lassetter said he can’t speak for the other commissioners, but “I think we want to look at all the other different options we have and make sure whatever we come up with is sustainable. I don’t think any one of us has all the answers.
“We have heard the comments loud and clear,” Lassetter added. “Hopefully, in the future, we’ll be at a point where we can find more information. There has been a lot of research and a lot of background work and a lot of hours spent trying to come up with something that is fair and reasonable.”
Blackburn said that, technically, the commissioners could probably make the changes without any public input or discussion, but “we don’t operate that way.” Any changes will be “presented, discussed and tossed around, and bounced off and whatever we work out will be given to you in a crystal clear format.”
The county’s health insurance costs have been climbing, and there’s a potential for an 18 percent increase this year, said Assistant County Administrator Kelly Mickle.
“It’s truly an issue of sustainability,” Mickle said. “We are trying to retain the benefit, but, at the same time, we have to be able to pay for the benefits.”
The original proposal was discussed at a commission work session May 29. The next week, several employees spoke at the county commission meeting.
The proposal has changed since then, said Patricia Palmer, director of community and human resources.
"The information presented at the work session was a broad starting point for the conversation about the challenges we face regarding employee and retiree health care,” Palmer said. "County staff has taken the feedback received from that work session and is using it to develop a new, revised and complete proposal.”
Palmer said she expects the final proposal to be ready in the next week.
The proposed changes that received the most comment regarded insurance coverage for retirees. Currently, all retirees with at least 25 years of service receive free health insurance. If they are under 65, their spouses have to pay the employee rate for coverage, and they get full coverage at 65.
Under the previous proposal, all retirees would get a Medicare supplement plan once they turned 65. Retirees under age 65 would have to pay the employee rate for their coverage.
The PowerPoint presentation shown at the work session showed no coverage for post-65 spouses of those with 25 years service. It said that post-65 spouses of those with 35 years service would have a portion of their Medicare supplement premium paid.
But that PowerPoint was incomplete, Palmer said. Spouses of those with 25 years service would be offered the Medicare supplement plan.
“The issue on the table was whether spouses of 25- and 35-year retirees should have a cost, and how much,” Palmer said. “This will be clear in the revised, final proposal."