Ocean View officials continued discussions of the impacts of increasing insurance costs on the town budget at a workshop this week, leading up to the looming council vote on the 2015-fiscal-year budget.
During the meeting, Town Manager Dianne Vogel and Finance Director Lee Brubaker reviewed the projected increase in health insurance premiums for Town employees.
The Town’s current insurance plan is no longer available, so throughout the process of trying to find a new insurance plan, Vogel said, she and Brubaker reviewed 20 different insurance plan options.
Although the Town has to choose an insurance plan by May 1, its budget must be approved at the April 8 council meeting.
As the Town employs fewer than 50 people, it has minimal flexibility in insurance options, according to Vogel. She noted that insurance rates are calculated based on a number of factors, including the number of family members being insured, and the individuals’ ages and tobacco use.
“We’re subjected to this, because we’re a small employer, period,” she said.
Brubaker said that, with the Town’s current plan, it budgeted approximately $217,200 for premiums. With the Town proposing to pay 6 percent of the increase in premiums, $223,628 will available to spend on premiums in the 2015 budget.
The Town plans to offer a Blue Cross/Blue Shield Silver Plan to its employees, with the option of opting into a Gold Plan. Vogel said representatives from Lyons Insurance would give an informational seminar to Town employees, on both plans, and answer any questions they may have.
“Just because it’s ‘Gold,’ doesn’t mean it’s better,” noted Vogel, adding that the seminar would be beneficial in discussing the differences between the two plans.
Vogel said that, although the two plans differ in coverage, the coverage afforded to children 19 or younger has improved.
“They’ve really focused on children’s care,” she said, noting that the insurance plans cover dental care, as well as eye exams and glasses.
Currently, those who have insurance through the Town have a Health Reimbursement Account (HRA), which Brubaker said would remain but would be reduced.
“We’ve selected a plan that still retained that, but with a reduced amount on the card,” said Vogel.
Police Chief Ken McLaughlin asked if the council had considered offering employees insurance stipends and allowing them to independently seek coverage.
“Would it cost less?” he asked.
“I don’t want us to get out of the business of insuring our employees,” said Councilman Bob Lawless. “I want us to stay in this, wrestle with it, struggle with it and do the best for our Town.”
Lawless said he especially wants the Town to continue offering healthcare because of the possibility of the municipality joining the State’s healthcare plan.
“It would be delightful if the State plan magically becomes available,” said Lawless.
“I am very confident that the State plan will become available to the Town,” said Wood. He noted that, with the State’s plan, the Town would no longer be distinguished as an employer of 50 or fewer, with the chance of better premium rates.
“I think that the State plan is the ideal and is wonderful. If that happens, great. I can be hopeful about it but not expectant,” said Lawless. “I think we budget very conservatively and plan for the worst — that it’s not going to happen, and if it does, let’s be pleasantly surprised and come back here.”
Vogel added that the Town had been in contact with legislators and even received a call from U.S. Sen. Chris Coons’ office regarding the Town’s desire to join the State’s healthcare plan.
The council unanimously agreed to having the Town offer the two plans to the employees, and budgeting $223,628 for premiums in its 2015 budget, which will be voted on at the April 8 meeting, at 7 p.m. in town hall.