On Monday night, the Indianola Board of Aldermen collectively agreed to accept a new insurance option for the city employees’ health insurance plan that was presented by Hunter Hollingsworth on behalf of Collier Insurance Company of Memphis.
Even though a majority of the city fathers had voted to accept another coverage plan prior to the July 1 year startup, at the request of Alderman Marvin Elder, Hollingsworth came before the city leaders with an alternative proposal and implied that he could provide additional savings over what the city is currently paying.
He insisted, among other things, that the city’s current broker is not presenting the municipality to all available carriers.
Three points, including certain percentages off of the total cost, a near 50 percent reduction of the maximum out of pocket total and a reduction in the drug co-pay costs are what supports Collier Insurance’s new options.
The aldermen had charged Hollingsworth to come back with definitive numbers before they would consider appointing him as the city’s broker and Hollingsworth has made several attempts to present his findings, but was hampered by failed meetings and such.
Most recently, was the confusion over presenting his proposal to the current consultant, Lee Rogers, before he was allowed to present it to the aldermen.
After having complied with that latest request, during Monday night’s session, Mayor Steve Rosenthal asked Rogers for his recommendation on Hollingsworth’s plan. Rogers said, “It’s very interesting, and I will recommend it.”
He explained, “What they have done is switched coverages between Blue Cross and Gulf Guaranty, the results being a slightly reduced rate and a slightly reduced entry point.”
Even though the city pays the majority of the costs for each of its employees, the workers are taxed with paying for a portion of the expense, and as of July, the start of the new plan year, that amount increased to as much as $120 per month per individual.
Police Chief Edrick Hall asked if the amount currently being paid by the employees would change, if the workers will have the option of opting out of the plan and how many could opt out before the plan would have to be reevaluated?
Hollingsworth explained that once his proposal was approved the workers would be given the opportunity to decide.
“To be in compliance, you have to give the employee the option to either opt in or opt out of new coverage coming their way, which will be September 1,” he said.
That remark sparked a question from Rosenthal and a concern that too many of the workers could decide not to participate, which would cause a likely increase in the proposed coverage. That incited a response from Alderman Ruben Woods.
Woods stated that the prior decision to raise the employee supplement is the catalyst for the employees’ impending exodus from the insurance plan.
“You guys don’t realize what you did the other day when you made that 3-1 vote,” he said.
Woods implied that the “big lump sum” that was pulled from the employees’ pay is what is causing them to want to find alternative coverage.
“That wasn’t my idea, I knew they were going to have to pay something, but you guys, y’all over did it,” said Woods. Then addressing Rosenthal, Woods added. “That would’ve been a good time for you to use your veto power.”
Rosenthal asserted that it was a decision made by the entire board.
Woods denied his involvement in that decision and continued, “You guys screwed up, go ahead and admit it.”
Rosenthal infused his disagreement with that statement.
Alderman Gary Fratesi then joined the exchange with an apparent reference to another 3-2 vote regarding insurance options from a previous meeting.
“No, Ruben you screwed up when you went for the higher number. If you’d of went for the lower number, we’d have been where we are now,” Fratesi said.
That ignited further debate between the two.
Hollingsworth stated that a 10% fluctuation in enrollment, either up or down would cause a change; however, he expressed his confidence in the employees remaining with the coverage since he is now introducing a better rate to the city.
Explaining that some of his employees were able to find better rates online and that they were upset by the surprise draft from their checks, Chief Hall also advocated for advance notice being given to the workers before the payroll deductions begin this time.
Although the workers were aware of the higher contributions because of the rate hike, apparently, the city officials failed to let them know it was being deducted from their July paychecks prior to subtracting the payment match.
Fratesi acknowledged that other options may appear to be better, but issued a caution.
“Yes, they can find insurance cheaper, but they better know what they’re getting, compare apples to apples,” Fratesi said.
Rosenthal made an additional caveat seemingly directing his remarks to the aldermen.
“I just want to be on record as saying, we’re allowing them to opt out, y’all be getting a call from them when they get sick.”
Fratesi made the motion and Woods presented the second and the vote was unanimous to accept Collier’s plan. However, Elder stressed that he also wanted it spelled out that Collier Insurance was now the city’s broker.
He said, “In addition to accepting that plan, wouldn’t it be feasible at this time to make a motion to hire Collier as the insurance broker-agent of record and accept the health plan and the GAP plan offered by Collier insurance?
Rosenthal then offered this reassurance.
“Don’t you worry, we ain't going to mess him over.”
Now that the new plan has been accepted, it is still not over. The city lawmakers will have to come back to the table before the middle of August to re-determine how much the employee share is going to be.