McLennan County commissioners Ben Perry, (from left) and Will Jones, and County Judge Scott Felton discuss the fiscal year 2018 budget.

Staff photo — Cassie L. Smith

McLennan County commissioners have adopted changes to the county’s health insurance plan as they face higher healthcare costs and more employees going to providers.

Precinct 3 Commissioner Will Jones said the insurance committee met and considered several options. The committee, which he was a part of, recommended a plan aimed at retiring any accumulated fund debt and that would fund operating expenses through fiscal year 2018. One of the main concepts was to move the plan to a calendar-year cycle, Jones said.

Any benefit or rate change will go into effect Jan. 1 after commissioners approved the changes. Precinct 2 Commissioner Lester Gibson was the sole vote against the change. Gibson said he needed more time to make a decision.

County health-plan manager RoseMary Mayes said the county is passing along a portion of its increased costs to employees now in order to prevent a larger future financial hit to county employees a couple of years down the road. That financial blow would be inevitable in a couple of years, so commissioners wanted to move incrementally.

“I think our compromise here is fair to both the county and to the employees,” she said.

The changes affect the county’s base plan, but not the consumer-driven health care plan. County employees currently can choose one of the two plans.

The Health Savings Deposit Account contribution by the county will change to $300 upfront annually for new employees who enroll during the year and an additional $300 to be paid in installments throughout the year, Jones said.

The base plan increases the deductible to $2,000 from the current $1,000; increases the out-of-pocket max to $5,500 from $4,500 for an individual; and increases office visit co-pays by $5, prescription co-pays by $5 each, urgent care co-pay to $75 from the current $50, and adds a $250 ER co-pay. Under the current base plan, employees are paying 20 percent of the cost of emergency-room visits after their deductible is met.

The changes will create an 11 percent reduction in claims cost for the county, according to Jones.

Jones said the costs to the county have risen under the current base plan due to a drop in discounts offered by healthcare providers.

Precinct 4 Commissioner Ben Perry said health care costs have increased every year. Often, county leaders can get creative and find ways to offset the increase in health care costs, but that wasn’t possible this year, he said.

A majority of county employees opt for the base plan, Perry said. While the base plan appears attractive because of its low deductible, once that deductible is hit county employees must still pay coinsurance of 20 percent until the $5,500 out-of-pocket max is met based on the base plan for an individual. The consumer-driven plan, meanwhile, covers all healthcare costs once the out-of-pocket maximum is reached, though the out-of-pocket maximum is higher in that plan than in the county’s base plan.

“I’ve been in the consumer-driven health plan. I find it to be a good plan,” he said.

County Judge Scott Felton said the county can absorb part of the health care cost increases, but not all. The county, which is self-insured, will continue to review options for providing easy access and additional providers, he said.

“When our fund gets low, we have to put money into it so in the next year, if it’s the same way, there’s enough money there to cover the costs,” Felton said.

Only 144 out of the more than 900 county employees have hit their deductible this year, Perry said. Employees who never hit their deductible could save enough money in two years in the health savings account under the consumer-driven plan to cover the entire $3,500 deductible under that plan if ever needed, he said.

Mayes said a significant education program will be offered in small groups throughout the county to educate employees about the changes.

Cassie L. Smith has covered county government for the Tribune-Herald since June 2014. She previously worked as a reporter for the Beaumont Enterprise and The Eagle in Bryan-College Station. Smith graduated from the University of Texas at Arlington.