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County Commission holds emergency meeting to address insurance issues

By MICHAEL RODGERS
The Lowndes Signal
The Lowndes County Commission met Tuesday night in an emergency meeting to make a decision concerning the county’s insurance before September.
According to a letter from the state insurance board, the county has been moved from the preferred insurance rate to the standard insurance rate because it doesn’t meet the minimum requirement for retirees.
The insurance board requires five percent participation from retirees, which equates to four employees, administrator Jacqueline Thomas explained to the commission.
The county currently has only one retiree enrolled.
Because the county doesn’t meeting the minimum requirement, their classification was changed, causing an increase in rates.
Currently, the cost is $349 for a single plan and $848 for a family plan insurance, but a premium increase is scheduled for October.
If the county remained on the preferred rate under the new premiums, the increase would be to $360 for a single plan and $875 for a family plan.
However, by moving to the standard rate, the single plan cost becomes $394 and the family plan jumps to $995, differences of $34 and $120, respectively, between the classified and preferred plans.
Thomas told the commission that the county employs 27 people on the family plan and 61 people on the single plan.
The difference between the two rates would cost the county nearly $50,000 per year based on the family plan alone, Thomas said.
However, Thomas also said that if the commission could find a way to not have any retirees enrolled, a letter could be written to the state board requesting that their classification be reconsidered from the standard rate to the preferred rate.
The commission then spent the better part of an hour discussing possible ways to provide the retiree with insurance while still keeping the overall rate down.
“We’ve got someone who’s been here for 25, 30 years, then they retire and can’t get insurance.  That’s not right,” said commissioner Dickson Farrior.
County attorney Hank Sanders explained that the 59-year-old retiree falls into a gray area.
“It’s a special case because they are not old enough to be eligible for Medicare,” he said.
One possibility that was considered was hiring the retiree back in an advisor position, but Thomas and Sanders were unsure how that would affect the employee’s retirement plan.
Another option that the commission discussed was enrolling the retiree in COBRA (Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act).
According to the Department of Labor, COBRA allows workers and their families who lose health benefits the right to choose to continue group health benefits provided by their group health plan for limited periods of time under certain circumstances.
“By having COBRA, it gives us an 18-month extension,” said commissioner Robert Harris. “From this point, they’ll still have insurance for the next 18 months, which gives us an opportunity to look at this.  Based on what we know now, that’s the only option.”
However, Harris also voiced his concerns about the decision when a vote was called for.
“If we do for one, we’ll have to do for all,” he said. “The more people that hear about this, we’ll be under obligation to help them.  We have a lot of 57, 58-year-old people who fall in that age bracket and want to go home.”
Two motions were made by the commission: The first was to approve the plan with the state insurance board without any retirees.
The motion was approved, and commissioner Marzett Thomas abstained.
The second motion was to do whatever is legal and proper to assist retirees with acquiring insurance, and it was passed with Thomas again abstaining.
The commission also set a meeting for 8 a.m. Monday morning to discuss an economic development contract.