CLEWISTON — Clewiston city commissioners followed the lead of the Hendry County Board and voted to switch health insurance companies during a special meeting last Thursday, Aug. 23.
The move will save the city almost $80,000 on the premium for its employees’ health insurance plans for fiscal 2019, which begins Oct. 1.
Clewiston Mayor Mali Gardner asked City Manager Al Perry for his report on the bids that had been opened the prior Thursday, but which city staff needed more time to examine (the council’s regular meeting was Monday the 20th).
“We’ve gone out to bid, first time in a while, on our employee health benefits, and we had two bidders,” he said. “We had our longtime agent, Gloria Rosen, who submitted a renewal proposal, and we had Florida League of Cities submit a proposal. The league offered us four different plans that we could pick from. They’re different in services.”
Mr. Perry explained that the city employees’ current plan is the HMO 59 Plan of Blue Care (offered by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Florida), “and the increase from last year with Blue Care was 18.6 percent.”
He went on: “So we’ve compared their proposals to the 59 Plan. Some are very similar; some are not as good. But what the city has narrowed it down to, to the best of our ability, is that … United Healthcare Plan 3 is the most similar, we think, to the Plan 59 of Blue Care. So what we were going to propose is, if you decide to make a change to United Healthcare, that plan three be the city’s base plan, and if employees wanted to buy up to a better plan, they could buy up to the number two plan.”
Mr. Perry said doing that would result in the city’s cost being only 10 percent higher than what it’s paying now.
Mayor Gardner invited representatives of the two companies to speak, and when Aaron Carper, director of group health for Florida Municipal Insurance Trust (FMIT), came to the podium, she asked how many other cities were in the League of Cities’ insurance pool. He answered that they number about 60.
Commissioner Kristine Petersen wanted to know if the staff had compared “apples to apples,” inquiring about how the plans were different.
Gloria Rosen, Clewiston’s longtime agent from Blue Care, said its plans “are all copay plans, meaning that there is zero deductible with the exception of three areas,” with flat copayments and no percentage billed for extra costs.
“United’s plans with this league, they all have either a 10 or a 20 percent copayment after a deductible for most of the … benefits, as well as the fact that you pay a $15 copay to a primary doctor, $30 to a specialist, but also … if there are excess things done at the doctor’s office other than preventative, once-a-year care … you have to pay the difference, which is called balance billing.
“And yes, my rates are very high in comparison, it’s true,” she finished, pointing out she had asked for more time to work on the proposal because she had not seen United’s plans or rates before Aug. 16 when the bids were opened.
Ms. Petersen questioned whether employees would get the same sort of personal service Ms. Rosen had been providing, and Mr. Carper answered that FMIT has offices in Orlando and a good reputation for its customer service operators.
Mayor Gardner asked Mr. Perry whether switching insurers would cause any detriment to the city or employees’ health coverage, and he answered no, adding, “That being said, Gloria has provided great service to the city for a long time.”
Commissioner Phillip Roland wanted to know the cost difference in dollars, and Finance Director Shari Howell said it would be $79,609 less for the medical plan than to stay with Blue Care. Commissioner Julio Rodriguez questioned Mr. Carper on FMIT’s premium increases for other municipal clients over the past several years, and he answered that they ranged “in the low to mid-single digits” of percent higher.
Mr. Roland ended up seconding Mr. Rodriguez’s motion to accept the League of Cities’ FMIT bid, adding, “I want to thank Gloria for everything she’s done for the city and me personally.” Ms. Petersen called Ms. Rosen “a great advocate for the employees.” The motion passed 4-0, with Vice Mayor Michael Atkinson absent.