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High costs of healthcare

By Staff | Jul 14, 2009

Pierce County employees receive full health care coverage, but with large premium increases becoming the norm every two years, just how much longer the county can foot the entire bill remains to be seen.

Blue Cross Blue Shield, which provides health insurance for county workers, increased its premiums by 26 percent, beginning this month. The monthly rate of a family policy went up $209 and is now $1,026.62. A single policy increased from $339 to $424. That rate will be locked until July of 2011 when another premium increase will take effect, Karin Fursather, county auditor said.

The county commission has agreed to continue funding full health insurance coverage through the end of the year, and will likely decide in the next month in preparing the 2010 budget whether that arrangement will continue next year. The commission may look into other options, including asking employees to contribute a portion of the premium hike.

The county’s costs for providing health insurance for its workers this last year was approximately $321,300. Fursather figured the new premium increase would add another $50,000 in costs to the county, provided health insurance remains fully funded.

The source of the frustration is the substantial price difference between single policies and family policies – some $500 monthy.

The county receives its health coverage through the North Dakota Public Employee Retirement System, or PERS. There has been discussion about creating a third policy option which would be for a worker and spouse. Right now they would fall into the family policy.

There are 45 full-time county employees who are eligible for coverage, and nearly all of them take advantage of the benefit. Due to privacy regulations, Fursather wouldn’t say the number of single and family policies.

Staff at the Heart of America Correctional and Treatment Center (HACTC) are considered county employees and fall under its health insurance and retirement program, PERS, but the county does not pick up their premium costs. Those costs are considered operational expenses for the facility.

The rising insurance costs are creating quite a burden on counties across North Dakota, says Mark Johnson, executive director of the North Dakota Association of Counties (NDACo). The Association is working to bring those concerns to light, and determine if future changes could be made.

Johnson and other members of the association were in Rugby to meet with commissioners to discuss that concern as well as others. It was part of a five-county tour for the Bismarck-based association.

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