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Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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Lake City News

City Manager Wendell Johnson tames the health insurance beast for the second year


This year, the situation was a little more relaxed for Tyson Johnson of the Parks Johnson Insurance Agency.

Monday night's City Council meeting capped months of hard work by Lake City, City Manager Wendell Johnson and his health insurance team, when for the second year running, health care costs (read health insurance) went down and BlueCross BlueShield's Parks Johnson Agency sharpened its pencil resulting in a $74,000 premium reduction for Lake City.

City Manager (CM) Johnson's battle to tame and reign in Lake City's healthcare costs began last year, when he brought in the Florida League of Cities and the Florida Municipal Insurance Trust's Clay Austin for a competitive quote. The result -- BlueCross BlueShield brought in its big guns, sharpened its pencils and fought to keep Lake City's business. (You can read that story here)

Monday night's presentation by the Parks Johnson Agency's Tyson Johnson began on a light note as City Manager Johnson said that he thought this year's presentation would be less intense than last year.

Tyson Johnson replied, "Don't think I'm not thankful for that."

Tyson Johnson's twenty minute presentation to the City Council went smoothly and clearly showed that he had put a lot of effort into the plans and was not taking the City's business for granted.

Tyson Johnson explained that until this year Lake City had two separate health insurance plans. The plans were similar in design. One plan was called Blue Options and the other Blue Choice. The plans were offered side by side and each plan had separate doctors.  

This year the plans were consolidated into one plan called the BlueOptions, which is an umbrella of three plans, one of which is an HSA or Health Savings Account. The City employees have their choice.

City Manager Wendell Johnson on the plan: It's a good deal

"The base plan is almost identical to the plan we have now, as far as coverage, except for one thing -- the deductible. The deductible for single person went to $1000 from $500. The family aggregate went from $1500 to $3000. Other than that, it's pretty much the same plan.
Some employees are going to get a little cut. Presently I pay $146 a pay period -- mine is going to go up to $161. Other employees are going to drop. For example, the City Clerk will go from $170 to $161 a pay period.
The health-insurance premium for the City went down $74,000 and the benefits are pretty much the same. The employees get virtually the same plan with no significant increase, other than those deductibles. In today's health care climate, that's a good deal."

CM Johnson looking to save more: The Opt Out

This year, CM Johnson is hoping to present to the City Council an employee Opt Out Policy, which would enable a city employee to opt out the city's health care plan providing they can show proof of health-insurance. The City Manager has sent out a memo to the employees asking for feedback.

Link: Learn more about Opt Out by reading this Opt Out form.

City Manager Johnson told the Observer, "If I can get 10 or 20 participants it will save the City a considerable amount of money."

City Manager Johnson is looking to return the equivalent of 50% of the premium to the employee.

CM Johnson said, "This will have to be finalized soon -- before open enrollment begins."

The 800 lb gorilla: the Florida League

This year, the Florida League's Municipal Insurance Trust (FMIT) did not put in a formal proposal.

Last year it was clear that FMIT was responsible for BlueCross BlueShield's major rate adjustment and it is unlikely that the City Council would have overlooked FMIT's savings had not BlueCross BlueShield matched FMIT's price. In the end, the City Council, as happens in many small town communities, stuck with the hometown boy.

Yesterday morning, the Observer asked the League of Cities' Clay Austin, "Did you have a chance to submit a counter offer on the plan that Tyson Johnson submitted to the City Council on Monday night?"

Mr. Austin replied, "I did, but I declined to make a counter offer... The Florida League of Cities declined to submit a counter offer. We were competitive to begin with. As long as the City saved money on their program and had a budgetary savings -- that was the goal of the Florida League and we were happy to see them do that. The League fights for its municipalities. And one day it will be the right thing for them, but this year it was not.

Epilogue

America's health care system is broken and in crisis. The effort and energy expended by City Manager Johnson, his health care committee, the City Council, Tyson Johnson of the Parks Johnson Agency and his staff, the corporate staff of BlueCross BlueShield, the League of Cities and Clay Austin represents thousands and thousands of dollars of time and effort and energy, not ten cents of which actually goes into making people better.

Next year in Lake City and every day in communities across the nation this process repeats itself.

This year City Manager Wendell Johnson tamed the beast. If this country doesn't wise up, next year he and Lake City may not be so lucky.

This work by the Columbia County Observer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 United States License.

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