Branch County could use American Rescue Plan funding to supplement employee health insurance for 2022, after some experienced an increase of 62% in premium cost.
The suggestion comes from a recommendation by a committee of District Judge Brent Weigle, Sheriff John Pollack and county administrator Bud Norman, after receiving complaints from employees.
Because of high claims, increased utilization and increased medication use over the past two years, there were significant increases in the employee premiums to continue coverage.
While it appears ARP funding from federal COVID-19 funds may be used, it might be a violation of state law regarding health care coverage. The county uses the “hard cap” system, in which costs are capped at a state level. All increases fall onto employees.
Norman asked Sen. Mike Shirkey to obtain an attorney general’s opinion about the legality and consequence of ARP supplements, whether this would affect the hard-cap rule.
Norman also requested Blue Cross/Blue Shield, the insurance provider, to consider two additional plans, for a total of six, raising employee deductible to $2,000/$4,000 and $4,000/$8,000 to lower employee expense.
The administrator said the county’s “rich” plan is $250, $500 and $1,000 deductible, lower than most private employers.
Although most of the impact on new hire Tier II employees, the committee also suggested any supplement apply to all employees.
Weigle said one of his newly hired workers earns around $30,000 a year. Insuring her family costs around $500 per month of $6,000, 20% of her gross salary.
Norman investigated whether employees could apply for coverage under Affordable Care Act. He said if the cost is more than 9.6% of the salary, the employee qualifies for the federal subsidy. The formula is based on single-payer, not families. Based on a single person, the cost for Branch County is 4.3%, too low to qualify.
Pollack said the committee recommendations, if adopted, “will help in the short term while we deal with the long-term issue.”
Pollack said part of the problem has been employees were told of the increased cost and given only a few days in December to sign up and little time to seek alternatives.
Norman said by changing deductibles with new plans, employees could save $290 annually for a single employee, $930 for two people and $1,325 for family.
If there is an ARP contribution, savings would be $794, $1,858 and $2,257, respectively.
Commissioners will decide what action to pursue after receiving the attorney general’s opinion.
This article originally appeared on The Daily Reporter: American Rescue Plan funds could lower county employee health insurance