Pitch to Switch

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, July 8, 2008

A pitch to switch: supervisors asked to consider Blue Cross

By Billy Davis

With an eye toward a July 10 deadline, Panola County supervisors Monday heard two separate pitches for moving the county’s medical insurance to Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Mississippi.

The pitches from Competitive Wealth Management, then from Gathings Insurance Partners, also urged the county board to drop its “gap” coverage in favor of an alternative plan that would allow the county to determine its own funding amount for gap coverage.

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Both firms also urged the county board to implement “wellness programs” offered by Blue Cross/Blue Shield, such as a no-smoking policy, which can reduce the county’s monthly premium by three percent.   

Panola County government currently uses Humana for medical insurance. Humana’s premium was set to cost the county $54,569 a month last summer when supervisors chose to continue with that provider.

Outgoing administrator David Chandler has warned supervisors about the rising cost of medical insurance, advising the board to reduce the 100-percent coverage currently enjoyed by county employees.

In the first presentation, a spokesman for Competitive Wealth advised supervisors to drop the gap coverage and replace it with an “HRA,” a health reimbursement arrangement. If the county chooses the HRA, supervisors would set an annual amount, such as $500 per employee, and employees could use that money to help pay for a hospital stay or other costly medical treatment.

The yearly amount typically rolls into a new year if the funds are not used, supervisors were told.

The county’s current gap coverage is $2,500 per employee. The current gap coverage costs Panola County about $10,000 monthly according to deputy chancery clerk Malia Brewer.

In the second presentation, Gathings owner Jimmy Gathings tag-teamed with business partner Kirk Scoggins and a Blue Cross representative, Doug Henley, to urge supervisors to consider Blue Cross, the HRA coverage, and implementation of a wellness plan. Henley was introduced as sales director for the firm’s Mississippi office.

The cost of Blue Cross coverage was provided in handbooks that were passed out to supervisors, but neither Competitive Wealth nor Gathings mentioned aloud any cost figures.

 “We don’t want to bore you with the details,” Gathings said at one point to the county board.

Scoggins’ presentation of the wellness program drew a chuckle from road manager Lygunnah Bean, who responded that implementing a wellness program “falls on us,” meaning management.

“We’re in the business of building roads and bridges,” Bean said.

The road manager also noted that he has heard five insurance coverage presentations and all are pushing for Panola County to choose Blue Cross.

Monday’s pair of presentations, made almost back-to-back, gobbled up an hour of board business until board president Robert Avant told Scoggins to conclude his presentation.

Supervisors adjourned until their Second District meeting next Monday, but some supervisors are expected to meet with county department heads Thursday to hear more pitches from insurance providers.

Both insurance firms stressed the Thursday deadline for notifying Blue Cross, but supervisors said they can move to a monthly contract with Humana if they choose to postpone a decision until August.