The cost of health insurance for Cherokee County government employees is going up, officials said.

County Commission Chairman Harry Johnston said in recent years the county has simply absorbed cost increases, instead of increasing the cost paid by employees. However, if the county had done that for the current calendar year, it would have added an additional $969,000 to the county’s budget, he said. With this in mind, county leaders shopped around for coverage to minimize the amount of cost increases across the board.

After reviewing the handful of options available, the board of commissioners agreed on offering two health insurance plan options to county employees at a meeting late last year. In addition, the county also approved changing providers for dental plans, vision plans and voluntary accident coverage plans.

“First, we’re offering a second option of a narrower, but lower cost, plan through Northside Hospital and its network of doctors,” Johnston said. “And we considered moving our primary plan away from Blue Cross/Blue Shield, but ultimately decided to stay with them.”

While reviewing both the Northside plan and the Blue Cross/Blue Shield plan, Johnston said the main feedback county employees voiced was that the plan offered by Northside did not include all of the doctors some employees may already be seeing, while the cost increase seen in the Blue Cross/Blue Shield plan, the employees felt may have been too much to bear all at once. Johnston said the county agreed to absorb a bigger portion of the cost increase, thus making the increase placed on county employees a more moderate one. At the same time, the Northside plan, although narrower than the other option, is somewhat of a cost reduction for employees choosing to go that route, while the plan from Blue Cross/Blue Shield may have an increase in rates over previous years, but is essentially the same level of coverage as before.

“There are two main factors we consider for insurance plans,” Johnston said. “The first is the cost, both to the county and to employees in terms of their premiums, as well as their deductibles and copays. The other main factor is the breadth of the network; that is, how many of the medial providers in the area are available through it.”

When looking at dental insurance, the county made the decision to move from Blue Cross/Blue Shield to Delta Dental, as the plans offered by Delta offered the same amount of coverage and a comparable network as the Blue Cross/Blue Shield plans already in place, while being a more affordable coverage plan.

Similarly, the county made the decision to move away from Blue Cross/Blue Shield as the provider for vision insurance, instead choosing to go with a plan from NVA (National Vision Administrators). Although county employees will see a slight increase in their vision insurance rates, there were a number of benefits the employees would receive through this change.

According to county documents, the decision to go from Boston Mutual to Colonial Life for accident coverage plans was based primarily on feedback the county received from employees surrounding customer service and the claim submittal process. Although there was a slight rate increase for employees covering just themselves, or themselves and their spouse, there was a decrease in rates for those with children. In addition, the benefits committee determined that the plans offered by Colonial Life had better benefits than those provided through Boston Mutual.

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