County faces high health insurance costs

SEBRING – Highlands County Commissioners have voted to transfer a large amount of dollars from the general fund, if needed, to the insurance fund to ensure it remains solvent.

With luck, however, they may be able to use part of their allowance under the America Rescue Plan Act to cover some of these costs and avoid having to relocate almost. $ 500,000, only from the general fund, to cover part of a $ 1 million miss to win.

Director of Business Services Tanya cannady said the county’s self-funded benefit plan, comprising medical, dental and wellness components, had 907 participants, including spouses and dependents of employees. Claims exceeded contributions by nearly $ 1 million, Cannady said, and the fund is in deficit.

She recommended the transfer of the commissioners $ 375,000 excess funds from the dental fund into the health fund, then put another $ 500,000 in the health fund, collected from the various cost centers that pay the various employees of the plan.

Once that’s done, Cannady said, the fund should be in the dark, for now.

She said the county may be able to use America Rescue Plan Act funds to pay for medical bills related to COVID-19, if the county’s consultant on ARPA funds thinks they can.

It’s possible. Cannady said the county, in just six months from March 1 to Sept. 30 of this year, had $ 502,000 in COVID-related costs, and another $ 12,000 in COVID-19 vaccination costs.

County administrator Randy Vosbourg asked the commissioners to include in their motion that the county should consider using ARPA funds first, before any transfer.

Clerk of the Courts Jerome Kaszubowski said his accounting staff predicted the financial health of the fund.

“We are also optimistic, but we are not as optimistic as some, based on our forecasts,” Kaszubowski said.

Last year, the entire benefit fund was at $ 994,000, Kaszubowski said, and this year began to $ 467000: One $ 1.4 million loss in a year. The health fund, he said, went from $ 582,000 to September 30, 2020, to negative $ 912,000 for a $ 1.5 million loss, in health claims alone.

The balance of the contingency fund, at October 31, Kaszubowski said, was negative $ 781,000. Health and dental claims for the first two weeks of November, he said, are $ 652,000, which would far exceed the planned transfer.

“Hopefully they can improve over the next two weeks in November, but if they don’t, you can do the math,” Kaszubowski said.

Commissioner Chris Campbell said he hoped those expenses would start to decline with the change in insurance companies this year. He added that many people may have rushed to their doctor’s appointments in September, after the peak of the pandemic and before annual benefits were paid.

Cannady said she is monitoring these costs on a weekly basis now.

Commissioner Kevin roberts asked if this is a “probability” that the county can get $ 500,000 or more covered by ARPA. Vosburg said it was “95% safe”, based on recently passed legislation on the use of these funds.

“We just want our consultant to agree with this opinion as well,” Vosburg said.

A big caveat, he said, is that the money should come, in pieces or as a whole, from one or more of the projects they had listed in the spending plan, which included the extension of the sewers to Emergency operations center and other such infrastructure.

Commissioner Arlene tuck asked if this would clarify the budget for fiscal year 2020-21. Cannady said yes. Tuck then asked if the county could be in the same position next fall – with a significant health fund shortfall – and Cannady said that was a possibility.

Commissioner Scott Kirouac asked how much of the vaccination costs were for the actual vaccines. Vosburg said it could be vaccines, but also drugs used to treat symptoms of COVID-19.

Vosburg said he needed the commissioners to make a decision that day, so that the funds could be transferred before the end of the year, for audit purposes.

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