Finney County officials are hoping that a series of changes approved by county commissioners to the county’s employee health benefits package not only will help keep health insurance premiums in check down the road, but also will help employees and their families, particularly those most at risk to suffer from chronic medical conditions, better manage their health.

The Finney County Commission on Tuesday voted to renew the county’s annual health insurance plan with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Kansas, with a 1-percent increase in premium costs for 2019. Commissioners also agreed to raise participating employees’ share of the premiums by 20 percent, based on a recommendation made by county staff in anticipation of higher premiums in future years stemming from ever-increasing healthcare costs, low deductibles and co-pays in the county’s insurance plan and an alarming percentage of plan members who aren’t properly managing chronic health conditions.

The change is projected to save the county $96,176 in health premium costs in 2019 compared to this year, and collectively is projected to cost participating employees $137,167 more. There are currently 287 employees enrolled in the plan. All told, the county still will be covering nearly 81 percent of the total premium cost.

Here’s how the premium hike will affect employees, according to a breakdown by IMA Financial Group of Wichita, which partners with the county in managing employee benefits programs:

• Employee single — $13.29 increase per month;

• Employee plus spouse — $50.48 per month;

• Employee plus children — $47.83 per month;

• Family — $53.14 per month.

While employees will be paying more for their health insurance next year, commissioners also approved a few other measures on Tuesday that could help offset the cost, with an eye on long-range health benefits and savings to employees and the county.

According to Finney County Human Resources Director Darlene Lucas, participation in the county’s biometric health screening events that are designed to provide both the county and employees a snapshot of employees’ health, has been relatively low. The next screening is scheduled for October.

With the commission’s approval on Tuesday of a $25 monthly incentive for all employees who participate in the screenings, which could completely offset or at least lessen the increase in monthly premium expenses for employees, county officials are hoping to see more employee participation.

The long-term benefit for that is employees being more aware of their health and more actively involved in maintaining it, Lucas said. And for the county, the hope is it will lead to healthier employees, she said.

The message the county wants to send, according to Lucas, is, “We’re not just your employer, we want you to be well.”

“We’re just saying, ‘Employees, we need to know your health.’ Because we can’t forecast what we don’t know, and if we have an employee out there that never goes and gets biometrics, never goes to the doctor, and all of a sudden he’s a full-blown diabetic or she’s a full-blown diabetic, that’s very costly to the plan,” Lucas told commissioners.

To help those most at-risk of suffering from chronic conditions, commissioners also agreed to enter into an agreement with Tria Health of Overland Park, which will offer personalized pharmacy care to county employees and their family members who are most at risk of chronic conditions and who need help in managing those conditions.

According to information provided by Tria, examples of chronic conditions include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, respiratory problems, osteoporosis, heart disease, mental health conditions and chronic pain.

“There is a certain percentage of your population that do have ongoing chronic conditions that are not being managed, and they need help managing those conditions,” Rick Beins, IMA Employee Benefits Account Executive, told commissioners as part of his presentation on Tuesday.

Tria will target employees and their family members who suffer from chronic conditions and who are non-compliant, meaning they aren’t regularly keeping up with their medications to treat their conditions.

An analysis by Tria identified 95 plan members as candidates for its Pharmacy Advocate Program, which provides patient-focused, confidential and collaborative care, to include on-going consultations and a medication summary plan that is shared with patients and their physicians. Of those 95, 72 were found to have two or more chronic conditions.

Tria’s program is based on the belief that pharmacological counseling can make a difference in helping patients manage chronic conditions, which if untreated can lead to even higher health care expenses, which ultimately has an effect on insurance costs.

“If those particular chronic conditions continue to go untreated, you’re going to continue to see your claims go up,” Beins told commissioners.

Through Tria’s program, participants would have access to prescription drug co-pay incentives, including zero-dollar co-pays for generic medications to treat chronic conditions, and 50 percent off (up to $15) for brand co-pays for diabetes and respiratory conditions where generic medications are not available, such as insulin, testing strips and inhalers.

Under the agreement, the county will pay Tria $5 per employee, or an estimated $17,400 annually. Based on the 95 plan members identified as potential participants in the Tria program, the company projects the program would result in $146,585 in savings toward the county’s insurance plan if all 95 participated.

Beins said 100 percent participation in Tria’s program is unlikely, but even if only 20 employees participated, the projected savings for the county insurance plan is $30,860.

A third change commissioners approved for 2019 is partnering with New Directions to provide its Employee Assistance Program, a benefit offered to all employees at the county’s expense.

Currently, Compass Behavioral Health provides services for the county’s EAP, but county officials are opting to go with New Directions because it will be able to offer a wider range of services.

In addition to mental health services, which will continue to be provided by Compass counselors, New Directions can offer employees financial consultation, dependent and elder care resources, legal consultation and health and wellness coaching.

“We have numerous opportunities to help our employees or assist them, whether they need a will or need some financial guidance,” Lucas said about New Directions’ more robust offerings.

One final change to the county's health benefits approved by commissioners was the decision to offer a voluntary vision plan for employees, which would be at employees' expense.

The health care benefit changes will be effective Jan. 1, 2019, with the change in EAP to New Directions effective Feb. 1.

 

Contact Brett Riggs at briggs@gctelegram.com.