Augusta Commission approves self-funded health insurance platform

The Augusta Commission voted Tuesday to go to a self-funded employee health insurance platform, a move that will save the city more than $1 million, a consultant said.


The vote was 6-2-1, with commissioners Corey John­son and Alvin Mason opposed. J.R. Hatney abstained, and Joe Jackson was absent.

Mason said health insurance consultant Lisa Kelley’s personal connection to a Blue Cross Blue Shield sales representative created an “appearance of impropriety.”

At an earlier work session, Kelley said she had declared the relationship with a Savannah staffer in writing and that it hadn’t impacted her work, which she does for a flat rate. City Finance Di­rec­tor Donna Williams also denied there was any conflict.

The move means hiring another branch of Blue Cross Blue Shield, which is the city’s current provider of employee and dependent full coverage, to serve as the third-party administrator for the self-insured platform. The city will collect employee premiums, bank them and use them to pay claims with help from the administrator.

Blue Cross Blue Shield wasn’t the lowest bidder of four obtained by a committee that included Kelley, Williams and procurement staff, but it was the recommendation of the committee and City Administrator Fred Russell.

For each claim, the city is liable for up to $200,000 that it pays from the premium pool, up to a guaranteed maximum of $22.9 million, Kel­ley said. After that, separate stop-loss coverage kicks in.

Going self-insured means the city will be better able to manage claims, making them less, in part by reviewing them as they occur and by opening an on-site employee health clinic for employees and their dependents 14 and older, Kelley said. The clinic, originally included in remodeling plans for the Municipal Building, will be in a mobile building near the sheriff’s Walton Way headquarters, officials said Tuesday.

Commis­sioner Matt Aitken, who voted in favor of the proposal, said his employer’s on-site clinic was a great place for quick care for colds and other minor ailments.

Mayor Pro Tem Joe Bowles asked how a new wellness program offered by Blue Cross Blue Shield as a third-party administrator differed from the wellness program it currently offers.

Kelley said the city will now “dictate disease management” strategies, such as mammograms.

“You’re going to be in charge of how your benefits run,” she said. The platform also will get all employees on maintenance medications such as cholesterol reducing drugs on a mail-order program, she said.

In other business, the commission approved rezoning a 2.69-acre tract on Wallie Drive in Hephzibah for seasonal parking for the Plantation Blood haunted house. Numerous employees and neighbors showed up on either side of the issue.

Rep. Earnest Smith, who is in a re-election contest with Republican college student David Hopper called the attraction on a narrow dead-end road a “tinderbox” and a potential “litigator’s dream” should the worst happen at the three-year-old venue.

City Fire Chief Chris James said the venue met codes and could allow fire truck access so long as traffic control was in place. Owners Mark Jackson and Brian Carter said they hoped to open up Wallie Drive to To­­bac­co Road to increase access.

The commission postponed a vote on operating agreements related to the Augusta Convention Center to the next commission meeting. Commissioner Jerry Brig­ham said the agenda item was moved because it lacked six supporting votes.

Commissioner Grady Smith said he wanted to see the agreements approved so operator Augusta Riverfront could move forward with preparing for conventions booked at the center, starting in January.

“We’ve got a chance to shine in January and put our best foot forward,” Smith said. “We’re letting a few negative people spoil the show.”

The center has 13 events scheduled so far in 2013. It needs many more to avoid projected operating losses of $887,203 in its first year, detailed in a recent report from Augusta River­front, which shares management with Morris Commu­ni­cations Co., owner of The Augusta Chronicle.

Consultant encourages city to self-insure
Rising employee health insurance costs prompts Augusta Commission to consider self-insurance


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