Insurance Questions

Published 12:00 am Friday, July 11, 2008

County officials pose insurance questions

By Billy Davis

Panola County officials said Thursday they expected to spend most of the day listening to various insurance firms pitch their services.

The county’s one-year contract with insurer Humana is set to expire in coming weeks, setting up a competition to capture about $1 million annually in premiums.

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The board of supervisors kicked off the process Monday, when firms Competitive Wealth Management and Gathings Insurance Partners took turns speaking to the board. Both firms also took turns touting insurance giant Blue Cross Blue Shield of Mississippi, and their competitors were expected to follow suit.

 Both Competitive Wealth and Gathings returned Thursday to again pitch their services, and at least two more firms were scheduled to follow. The visiting insurance firms were also expected to pitch the idea of an HRA, a health reimbursement arrangement, to replace so-called gap coverage.

The insurance meetings took place in the county boardroom in Batesville, where supervisors Robert Avant, Kelly Morris and Bubba Waldrup participated. Also attending were Chancery Clerk Jim Pitcock, administrator David Chandler, road manager Lygunnah Bean, deputy purchase clerk Carolyn Mills, deputy chancery clerk Malia Brewer, and Robbie Haley, administrative assistant for the sheriff’s department.

Like Monday’s board meeting, Competitive Wealth kicked off the presentations followed by Gathings.

Speaking to representatives of both firms, county officials peppered the agents with questions about whether the HRA can roll over if a new insurer is chosen (short answer: yes) and where the HRA funds are kept (short answer: general fund). The county’s representatives also demanded specific plans for wellness programs and one-on-one consultations with employees.

Responding to a question from Haley about life insurance, Competitive Wealth representative Pat Hoffman said a Met Life policy allows for a $100,000 policy without a physical exam.

Working against a 30-minute deadline, Jimmy Gathings trumpeted his firm’s “on the ground” service and downplayed any price comparisons with his competitors.

“You’re not buying a Blue Cross product. You’re buying the agency,” Jimmy Gathings told Brewer, who oversees employee benefits, in an obvious effort to downplay any comparison of costs.

At one point, Gathings asked the gathering to “look past” the Blue Cross quotes.

“The quotes shouldn’t be any different,” he said. “The rates are the rates.”

But Bean took issue when Gathings employee Kirk Scoggins suggested that the county could expect Humana to hit its client with a 27-percent increase in cost. Using that figure, Scoggins then speculated that the county would pay about $1.2 million in premiums in the coming year.

“It’s not a 27-percent increase,” Bean said. “I’ve seen it. It’s not 27 percent.”

After Gathings had departed and that topic resumed, other county employees replied that the 27-percent figure is possible, citing several expensive insurance claims filed over the current year.

Gathings paused when Avant asked if his firm represents other Mississippi counties. The eventual answer was “no,” but Gathings gave a positive answer.

“We are one of the largest private benefit firms in Mississippi,” the insurance agent eventually responded.