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Affordable health insurance is chief topic in meeting

Friday, January 24, 2003

CHARLESTON - Finding affordable health insurance for county employees and officers was once again the chief topic for Mississippi County commissioners during their Thursday meeting with presentations from two insurance companies.

The first presentation was from Mark Surgener of Maher, Rosenheim, Comfort and Tabash of St. Louis, brought before commissioners by Richard McDougal, a local insurance agent and broker.

Surgener compared costs and benefits of "first dollar coverage" and high deductible plans, advising the county could bank money saved on premiums toward a self-funded deductible pool.

One option presented offers 100 percent coverage after the $2,000 deductible is met for an individual or $4,000 for family.

The quote presents an average premium, Surgener said, which will go up or down depending on new hires and employees leaving.

The company also offers an employee benefit information website. "For the basic website there is no cost," Surgener said.

Later in the meeting, Dixie Anderson, a broker for Insurance Management Systems in Jonesboro, Ill., and Richard Reed of Brink Insurance in Charleston presented information on renewing or changing the county's plan with Trustmark, their current provider.

Anderson said that over the past nine months, Trustmark has paid out $330,000 in claims for Mississippi County while collecting only $240,000 in premiums.

In order to just break even, the company can only pay out 80 percent of the premiums in loss claims, Reed said.

Anderson said that while inflation accounts for some of the premium increase, much of it comes as a result of the group's high loss ratio.

Making changes such as increasing the doctor office co-pay from $20 to $30 or making adjustments to the prescription cards actually resulted in no significant dollar savings, commissioners noted.

Annual premiums under one option presented would be $473,000. With no changes, the county's total premium for the year will be $493,031.

The county must notify Trustmark of any changes in the plan by Feb. 15 for the changes to be in effect by March 1.

Only six from the county's group went over the $3,000 deductible last year - not very many considering the approximate 100 lives insured, DeLay noted. One of those, however, was a very large claim that looks as if it will be ongoing, Reed said.

If the county had a $2,000 deductible last year, only eight would have met it. "So a higher deductible hasn't affected a lot of people," said Anderson.

In other Mississippi County business:

* Commissioners approved allowing the rural water district to run lines under county ditches as requested in a letter from the district's president, Tom Glenn.

Contractors will use directional boring to place the lines at a minimum of four feet below the ditch bottoms, and the county will not be held responsible for accidentally damaging pipes.

Plans and specifications for the water district are complete and the district will be ready to bid the project out in a few weeks, Glenn reported in the letter.

* Commissioners renewed the annual service contract for the Charleston Nutrition Center.

* The repaired motor for one of the courthouse's tower clocks will be shipped within the next few weeks, DeLay said. "They said there was something wrong with the shaft," he reported.

* Commissioners agreed to put in speed bumps on a county road running through an industrial park near East Prairie which connects to State Highway BB.

Cars are going 55-60 mph when they should be doing 25, Blumenberg said. "They're just flying through there now."

* Blumenberg asked if there is another way the county budget can be arranged so the annual $300,000 transfer to the law enforcement fund from general revenue does not make it appear as if the jail is losing money.

"It looks like a subsidy for the jail," agreed Martin Lucas, commissioner.

"That's a false perception," DeLay said.

* Neal Day of NAFCO in Sikeston advised commissioners that the current steel market is on a long-time low so he has been able to acquire "a fairly large inventory" of culverts 8-10 foot in diameter "and unusually long."

Day said he also has plenty of 89-foot railroad cars priced at around $9,500 delivered and ready to use. "We prepare these cars before we ever bring them to you," Day said.

Other vendors "operate on the telephone" and "never give the kind of service as at NAFCO," he said.

He explained that his father, Keith Day, has retired and passed on the railroad car business to him.

Oliver said the county is getting away from tank cars. "We found a better answer - and that's bridges," he said.

Day said while the bridges are preferable, tank cars are great for quick fixes and, unlike corrugated culverts, can be used again once they are pulled out. "It is a reusable commodity."

Day also recommended using asphalt to deck the railroad car bridges instead of concrete.

"The most cost-effective way is with asphalt," Day said, recommending a four-inch finishing cap of high-density, high petroleum asphalt.

The petroleum helps protect the bridge from moisture, Day said, while the acidity of concrete affects the steel in addition to not being able to flex and bend with the bridge as well as asphalt.

"We all know there's nothing that's maintenance-proof," Day said, but advised asphalt is the best option.

Day also recommended the county only purchase railroad cars with full-depth beams and avoid light-weight.

Commissioners said they will use try Day's railroad cars on one of their bridge replacement projects slated for this year.