Health care act could save Selma money

Published 10:15 pm Saturday, September 28, 2013

The city of Selma is looking into the Affordable Health Care Act as a possible way to reduce the $1 million it pays in health care benefits.

Ward 1 Councilman Cecil Williamson asked Selma mayor George Evans if the city had considered the act to reduce costs during the city council’s Tuesday meeting.

“If there is another, less expensive way, we need to at least look into it,” Williamson said. “$1 million is a lot for health care for a city our size. My main concern is being fiscally conservative.”

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Health benefits represent 6 percent of the city’s $16 million budget.

The city’s current plan, through Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama, may also be a large burden for employees. Of the city’s 312 employees, Evans said 9 or 10 choose not to participate in the city’s plan.

The city currently pays $312 per month and employees pay $74.

“We have no idea whether (the Affordable Care Act) is an advantage until we do our research,” Evans said after the meeting. “We don’t want to spend money if we could save somehow.”

He said a representative from Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama would attend the next city council meeting to detail how switching would affect the city and its employees.

Alabama estimates for the act released Wednesday by the by the Department of Health and Human Services showed prices would be lower-than-average and lower than the city’s current plan.

According to initial estimates, the lowest-cost, highest deductible plan would cost $247 per month. Plans with a higher premium average $303 per month.

The city will have to consider more than current employees in the switch. Selma also pays for half the cost of benefits for 64 retirees.

Ward 4 Councilwoman Angela Benjamin said she is in favor of reducing costs, but is focused on finding the right fit for the city.

“I think we need to look into what is really going on and find what is the best fit for us,” Benjamin said during the meeting.

If the city decides to switch, it may not switch providers.

The Affordable Care Act set up marketplaces that allows the uninsured to price and compare different plans. The exchanges begin offering insurance starting Oct. 1 and coverage starts Jan 1.

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama has filed to participate in the exchange. Evans said the city might simply choose a cheaper plan from its current provider.

The Department of Health and Human Services said Alabama residents will have an average of seven plans to choose from.