Health insurance dominates county debate

By AUTUMN HUGHES

Posted 3/13/18

For at least the third time, the Bradley County Commission has heard information about optional health insurance products available to offer to county government employees. Whether to offer additional health insurance product options for those employees was the main topic of discussion during Monday’s noon Commission work session.

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Health insurance dominates county debate

Posted

For at least the third time, the Bradley County Commission has heard information about optional health insurance products available to offer to county government employees. Whether to offer additional health insurance product options for those employees was the main topic of discussion during Monday’s noon commission work session.

Commissioner Dan Rawls said there seems to be a "discrepancy" in regard to what options employees have access to now and what the Healthy Transformations plan offers. 

Brian Little, an agent and program consultant with Healthy Transformations, made a presentation to the commission’s Insurance Committee in January. At that time, he discussed the program’s two aspects: a health and wellness initiative, and a tax savings program. The health and wellness initiative is Hope 80/20, a diabetes program administered locally by Hope 80/20 CEO Maurice Saliba. 

A week later, the county’s insurance broker, Pam Nelson with Ocoee Insurance Services, spoke to commissioners about how similar health and wellness and insurance products offered by Healthy Transformations are already available and being used by county employees. 

In January, Little estimated Bradley County could realize $300,000 to $350,000 in Federal Insurance Contributions Act savings. On Monday he estimated that figure to be $250,000 and asked “What would a quarter of a million dollars in tax savings do for this county?” 

On Monday, Nelson said she spent about an hour with Little to discuss the details of Healthy Transformations’ offerings. She expressed concern to commissioners that participation reduces employees' income and could impact Social Security benefits at retirement age. 

Also, Nelson disagreed to an earlier comment by Little that county employees have little participation in voluntary benefits. 

"That's totally not correct," Nelson told commissioners. "You have everything that can be offered."

She said the county has approximately 650 employees and more than 2,000 voluntary policies on the books; that averages out to about four policies per employee "so I feel it's very, very good participation in that area." Nelson said she thinks it is more of a taxation question rather than an employee benefits question for commissioners to consider.

"There's not anything new and different," Nelson said, adding county employees have always been offered voluntary insurance options.

She also suggested looking first at possible tax implications for employees before considering it further because doing this "could pose some problems down the road" related to liability. 

Commissioner Bill Winters asked Nelson if Healthy Transformations is offering anything new. Nelson said benefit-wise, no, although the company wants to do a wellness initiative but "it's a duplication" of what is already available to employees.

Taking his opportunity speak, Little said he expressed to Nelson from the beginning that Healthy Transformations is intended to enhance current benefits available to county employees. He also disagreed there could be negative tax implications for county employees, saying "It's putting tax dollars back in the employee's pocket." 

At the end of the presentations by Nelson and Little, Commissioner Charlotte Peak, who serves on the Insurance Committee, said Bradley County employees have access to a wellness program now so what Healthy Transformations has to offer sounds like a duplication of services. If the commission allows such duplication, then commissioners will have to listen to product pitches from other companies and go through a bid process. 

Winters asked Little what is the benefit to offering county employees the Healthy Transformations program. “What would the employees be getting, physically?” he asked.

Little said the benefit would be tax savings to both employees and the employer. “The numbers would be very large,” he said, referring again to the $250,000 figure.

Commissioner Thomas Crye reminded his fellow commissioners that insurance is “under the (county) mayor’s portfolio” and the commission simply votes on funding it. He added he understands there could be FICA savings for the county, but he is not inclined to do anything to adversely affect employee benefits, especially related to Social Security benefits upon retirement. 

In addition, Crye said he agrees with Peak about having to go through a process to hear other insurance pitches and go through a bid process if this is approved. 

Commissioner Howard Thompson, who serves on the Insurance Committee, said the county’s employees seem happy with their options.

Rawls said the commission has a fiduciary responsibility if there is a tax savings for the county and additional benefits for the employees. Peak said she appreciates Rawls for looking out for financial responsibilities, but she is not supportive of anything that takes from the employees’ retirement savings.

Winters noted that Healthy Transformations is voluntary and gives employees the opportunity to decide whether to take money from their future Social Security benefits to pay for health and wellness initiatives in an effort to make sure they live long enough to receive those retirement benefits. 

As this discussion took place at a work session, there was no action taken regarding this matter.

In other business:

• Commissioner Milan Blake said the Finance Committee asked the county mayor to include a line item for travel in the upcoming budget. He said the Tennessee General Assembly is requiring new county commissioners statewide to attend training, requiring travel. Blake said the new line item will segregate the travel reimbursement from the commissioners' salary line item.

"It'll come to Finance as the mayor's proposal," Blake said, adding the line item creation doesn't need to be approved separately, but can be included as part of the overall budget approval.

• Peak said recently there has been some "public bashing" that Bradley County's roads are not maintained properly, but the roads mentioned are state roads, not county roads.

"I think Sandra's doing a fine job," Peak said, referring to Bradley County Road Superintendent Sandra Knight Collins.

Peak added that citizens should call the road department if there is a pothole in their road and it will be added to a repair list.

"If it's on the state road, call the state," she said, noting that 64 Highway and APD 40 are state roads.

In addition, Peak said that pothole repairs have to wait until the weather is warmer, or repairs won't last. Also, the plant that produces the material used to repair potholes doesn't operate until the weather is warmer, she said.

Rawls thanked Peak for her comments, adding he has heard the same thing about the roads. He also said an SPCA of Bradley event over the weekend brought out 25-30 volunteers who helped clean up the exterior of the animal shelter building.

• Crye placed on next week's commission voting session agenda a resolution to rezone from Rural Residential (R-1) to General Commercial (C-2) property located at 2055 Ann Lane NW. A public hearing on the resolution is scheduled at noon on Monday, March 19, during the commission meeting.

• Commissioner Terry Caywood said the next Tennessee Department of Transportation meeting regarding the expansion of Highway 60 is scheduled for 1 p.m. on Wednesday, March 28, at the Cleveland City Council’s meeting room. The public is invited to attend.

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