City looks for health care savings

Published 10:13pm Monday, October 28, 2013

The Selma City Council learned last week that the city’s health care plan is costing more than previously thought.

City council members were previously told the city spends approximately $1 million on its health care plan from Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alabama when Ward 1 Councilman Cecil Williamson asked about switching to the Affordable Care Act’s health care marketplace.

Williamson asked Blue Cross Blue Shield representatives to return with answers to his questions about the cost of switching.

When the council reviewed the answers last week, Williamson said he was shocked to find out the city was shelling out $1.46 million to Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alabama. He also discovered that Blue Cross increased the city’s cost of insurance by $38,000 for the upcoming year.

“It concerns me the city is paying $1.46 million,” he said. “I think if we can get similar coverage at a lower cost, it would be foolish not to do so.”

The city is still waiting on data from Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alabama about the cost of insurance for each employee. Selma Mayor George Evans said the data would be available for the council’s next meeting on Nov. 18.

Once costs for each employee come in, Williamson said he would continue advocating for the switch or pull the proposal if the cost is too high.

Ward 4 Councilwoman Angela Benjamin said the switch would save employees money in addition to the city.

“I have been talking to friends and looking at how things are working and there are people who pay almost zero on the marketplace,” she said.

But Evans is taking a more cautious approach.

“There are just a lot of unknowns and a lot of different interpretations,” he said. “We have a real first class plan, but I have no idea at this point whether switching would be any better.”

Currently 27 of the city’s 250 employees aren’t covered by the city’s plan, which is a motivating factor for switching, according to Williamson. He said the switch would provide a more affordable health care option for employees. Though, he did concede some of the employees might currently take advantage of his or her spouses plan.

Williamson’s proposal isn’t a permanent switch. Instead, he wants to switch plans for a year before returning to a city-provided plan in 2014.

“This is something we can do this year to save the city money,” he said.

The city would save money through government subsidies. The Affordable Care Act provides individuals with a subsidy on health insurance based on income. So, an employee earning $100,000 per year would likely pay more for insurance than an employee earning $25,000 per year.

Williamson said the city has until the start of fiscal year 2015, which begins on Oct. 1, 2014, to offer health care coverage. If not, the city would be fined $2,000 per employee for not offering affordable coverage, but individuals only have until March 31 to sign up, according to a White House statement.

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