County Corner, June 13, 2013
By Roger Baker
One of the main topics at Tuesday’s meeting of the Gilpin County Commissioners—and certainly the most expensive—was the preliminary approval of the County’s health insurance package.
The County’s insurance broker, Bill Cook, has worked very hard the last few years to keep the County’s premiums down, while still allowing the County to provide an adequate level of coverage for its employees.
There are a number of different elements that go into the health insurance package—medical, dental, vision, and long-term disability (the County having eliminated short-term disability insurance last year as a cost-savings measure). By far the biggest cost, though, is for the medical insurance, which for the past several years has been through Anthem (Blue Cross/Blue Shield).
The costs of this sort of plan, frankly, are pretty staggering. The basic, employee-only enrollment (the cost of which is wholly borne by the County) is projected to be just under $600 per month for each covered (generally full-time) employee. If all 117 eligible employees took that option, the County’s cost would be just over $800,000 annually.
But the County, like most employers also pays at least a part of the coverage for an employee’s family; there are differences for just spousal coverage, or coverage just for dependent children, but most employees choose the option of insuring their entire family. That cost is almost $1100 more per month for the insurance, and the County charges only about half of that to the employee.
Then there are a few buy-up options, where employees who wish to can pay more for a different plan that has slightly lower co-pays and slightly better coverage.
All these different options make doing apples-to-apples comparisons awfully difficult, but the trend is certainly clear. In 2005, the cost of insuring the County’s employees was just under $1 million; the estimated cost for 2013 is $1.7 million.
That would be fine if revenues were increasing, but the largest component of the County’s revenues—the gaming tax paid by the casinos in Black Hawk and Central City—has been stagnant. In 2006 we received over $9.6 million from that source (and over $10 million in 2007), while for 2013 we are budgeting roughly that same amount.
So when the County’s revenues remain flat, and insurance costs increase by $800,000, it’s pretty hard to maintain the high level of County services residents have enjoyed, much less provide new programs, no matter how worthy.; the budget just won’t allow it.
The Commissioners could have chosen in the past—and could have chosen again this year—to reduce insurance costs by moving to entirely different programs, like a Health Spending Account or an HMO. But those options are less desirable for a number of people, and it’s also important that the Commissioners keep benefits adequate to continue to hire and retain qualified people—again, necessary to maintain the high level of County services.
In the end, the Commissioners agreed to maintain the current plan, which this year had an increase of just 2.14%; that should make both employees and taxpayers happy.
So that’s why these decisions are so important. They’re important for our employees (a big change in insurance coverage and providers has both financial and medical implications) and for the County’s bottom line as well.