A proposed special call meeting, agreed upon by three Indianola Aldermen, with the intended purpose of allowing Tennessee-based Collier Insurance to present a new employee health insurance rate proposal to the city leaders, was reduced to a presentation after only those aldermen showed up. If a quorum had represented, it could have also served as a platform to hire Collier as the city's insurance broker.
Aldermen Ruben Woods, Marvin Elder and Sam Brock were in agreement with holding the session; however, aldermen Darrell Simpson and Gary Fratesi were no shows, as was Mayor Steve Rosenthal. The gathering did not constitute an official meeting since Woods, who is the vice-mayor, had to serve as presider. So, there were not enough members for a quorum.
In response to an email sent out by City Attorney Kim Merchant, Simpson asked which three aldermen requested the meeting and then replied that he would not be attending, citing an issue with the posting of the notice.
“Our charter states that we must give the public a three-hour notice. It wasn’t posted until 2:00 pm., which is only a two-hour notice. I will not be attending this meeting,” Simpson wrote.
Elder, Brock and Woods along with Merchant and a group of city employees listened as Hunter Hollingsworth, a representative of Collier Insurance, explained the information.
Facing a sizable rate increase that was presented by Blue Cross Blue Shield Agent Kent Barrett at a previous session, the city leaders had already opted to go with a variation of a plan presented just before the June deadline.
However, they had challenged Hollingsworth to go out and bring them back a better deal if he could. And on Friday, Hollingsworth said he came prepared to have the city officials contract with him as their broker of record. "So here I am," he said.
Even though official steps could not be taken, Hollingsworth opted to proceed with his presentation.
"I didn't come all this way to not tell you all about benefits," he said. But, he continually stressed that one of his main purposes was to become the city's broker.
In a nutshell, Hollingsworth said he could provide a $26,884.20 pre-tax savings to the city, lower the employees annual out-of-pocket maximum from $6,400 under the current plan to $3,120 under his proposal, lower the office visit co-pay and eradicate the prescription drug co-pay.
Currently, city workers have to contribute from $60 per month to $120 per month towards their health insurance premium, Hollingsworth said those amounts would be reduced by $25.74 per month.
The city workers would still be insured by Blue Cross Blue Shield. “It's the same plan you have now, besides the better benefits," Hollingsworth said. Referencing the city's current package with BCBS, Hollingsworth said, “I knew there were savings in there.” He said afterwards, “Same exact model, it's just the way that we do it versus the way their current broker is doing it."
In his presentation he explained that the cost on the secondary plan (The MedPlus gap plan) is higher than the old plan, but he explained that was because there is now a drug prescription card built into it.
Overall, Hollingsworth said his plan represents a five percent savings to the city. They reportedly experienced a 35.32 percent increase, but under the Collier plan that increase would only be 30.08 percent based on the presentation."So, not only have we saved on your premium dollars, but I've made your benefits better for your employees," Hollingsworth said.
Then, mentioning previous statements made by Rosenthal about UnitedHealthcare and their relationship with medical facilities in this area, Hollingsworth said, "My data tells me different." He stated that UnitedHealthcare representatives told him that they've talked to him more than they have talked to the city's current broker in five years.
"They said I haven't seen a request for the City of Indianola in over three years," Hollingsworth added.
Elder reminded those present that as a board, they had asked Hollingsworth to go out and bring back information.
And referencing previously-made statements that they had been told that no other insurance company would write a policy for the city, Elder said, “That was a lie too.”
Then addressing the audience of workers, he said, “So, I would like to know what Barrett's been doing as our broker, and I would like to know what Lee Rogers has been doing as our consultant. Why were we paying these people to handle the City of Indianola's business and this is what we're getting for our buck?”
Elder then voiced some apparent allegations. “I think there is a conflict of interest also and they need to give us something in writing, who's being paid, how much Barrett is being paid and how much the consultant is being paid through Barrett or whoever because there is surely some unethical things, appears to be, and we need some questions answered for the City of Indianola and the city employees."
During a question and answer period, Hollingsworth shared a circumstance that he said could be problematic for the city, namely that the employees were not given an opportunity to opt out of the coverage before the city ordered deductions from their payroll checks.
Police Chief Edrick Hall, speaking on behalf of other city employees and especially those in his department who could not be a part of the presentation due to social distancing restraints, addressed the aldermen and expressed disapproval over how the matter was handled.
He said no one was made aware of the deduction prior to getting their checks. "They knew nothing about it. All they knew was their check was $60 shorter than what it normally is," he said.
Reflecting on how many workers survive paycheck-to-paycheck, Hall said he felt like the people should have received some type of correspondence from the city leaders so that people would know in advance what was going on.
Additionally, he also expressed that they should have been allowed the opportunity to opt out of the plan prior to the money being drafted from their checks. “It's my money, if I'm paid a salary then I should be entitled to dictate where that money goes,” Hall said.
One city worker asked if the city was going to return their money since she wasn't given the opportunity to opt out. Another asked if they could opt out of the current plan to go with Collier's plan, but Merchant responded that it would require a majority vote from the city aldermen to change what's been done.
Elder added, "We work for you all, y'all don't work for us. What y'all need to do is talk with your people, poll your people and bring it back to the board and let them know exactly what you want. Demand what you want. Because that's what we should have done.”
He continued, “We need to redeem what we have done, if something was wrong let's correct it and move forward."
As an additional thought Elder said, "If any alderman had any real concern about the city employees in the City of Indianola they would have at least taken the time out to be here to hear the presentation concerning the city employees of the City of Indianola."
Elder said the officers who did not show up were being disrespectful since they had asked Collier to go out and bring the information back. “Why not come in and at least listen to the information,” he said.