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  • Health insurance reforms have saved community millions

    Feb 17, 2017 | Read More News
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    By Chuck Huckelberry
    Pima County Administrator

    Chuck HuckelberryIn 2013, the prognosis for Pima County’s health insurance plan was not good. We had just experienced back-to-back 19-percent increases to the costs of employee benefits and additional cost increases loomed on the horizon. Left unchecked, those escalating expenses would have resulted in increased costs to taxpayers, a diminished ability to deliver public services or both. 

    Beginning in 2013, the County started working with an insurance consultant and later Aetna to find solutions to the problems of perpetually increasing costs and the poor performance of the Preferred Provider Organization (PPO) plan. 
    Since then, at the Board of Supervisors’ direction, we have adopted a consumer-driven, self-insurance plan for employee medical and pharmacy benefits. Those efforts have resulted in not just better health outcomes for employees, but better coverage and, most importantly, significant savings to taxpayers.

    And for one of the first times in years, County employees next fiscal year will not have an annual health insurance premium increase. 

    The reforms the County enacted have resulted in avoiding more than $45 million in new health-insurance related costs. 

    The biggest change we made was to eliminate the PPO in favor of a High Deductible Health Plan with a Health Savings Account (HSA) component that includes a County contribution to employee HSAs. This has helped County employees create and grow funds used to pay for deductibles and other health-related expenses. 

    Through employee contributions of the more than 80 percent of our workforce who participate, along with County matching contributions, the fund has grown to more than $17 million. 

    The County’s Health Benefits Insurance Trust Fund balance also has grown as a result of the reforms, topping $21 million today. 

    The strong financial positions of the trusts have put the brakes on annually escalating health-benefit costs and keeps rates at a constant level for participating employees while repaying a loan from the general fund that helped create the fund. 

    In addition to the cost-saving measures enacted, longer-term health education and healthy living efforts have been created to educate employees and help them make quality health choices. 

    The Board has since adopted many Healthy Lifestyle Premium Discounts to encourage employee health and promote new cost savings through lower medical expenses. 

    The discounts program has been a great success in helping employees better manage their health outcomes by incentivizing healthy lifestyles.

    Participation rates for the Healthy Lifestyle Premium Discounts programs have been admirable. Last year, for example, 2,380 employees had health assessments, 3,090 employees attended preventive screenings and 1,482 employees earned 100 or more Healthy Lifestyle Active Points through exercise tracking.

    This participation has not only helped promote healthy lifestyles among County employees but has reduced the costs associated with conditions like diabetes, osteoarthritis and weight management.  

    Reforming our health benefits plan was a monumental undertaking that took an enormous amount of work from our Human Resources and Finance teams. That work has proved well worth the effort and has benefited the health of County employees and saved taxpayers millions of dollars.