Cole County Commission approves 2024 employee insurance plans

For the first time since 2018, the cost of workers’ comp insurance in Cole County will increase next year.

Cole County Commissioners approved the 2024 health, dental, vision and group life insurance plans at their meeting Tuesday. Those plans came with some changes, including an increase in employee costs and more accountability for the county.

The commission chose to renew its plans with United Medical Resources (UMR) and United Healthcare for health insurance; Sun Life for life, dental and vision insurance; and Smith Rx to manage pharmacy benefits.

UMR is not an insurance provider, but acts as a “third party administrator” for United Healthcare. This means that UMR manages Cole County’s employees’ insurance for United Healthcare.

Joe Snodgrass, an account manager at the Wallstreet Group who advises the county on employee insurance plans, said the UMR rates are on hold, so there will be no change there.

However, she said, the county’s stop-loss plan with Sun Life will change.

Stop-loss or supplemental insurance puts a cap on how much the county spends on deductibles, with the insurer (Sun Life) paying any amount over the limit.

Snodgrass said the county had a high claims year, so Sun Life wanted to raise the stop-loss limit. She said Randy Luquenot, Wallstreet Group CEO, negotiated with Sun Life to raise the stop-loss limit from $75,000 to $85,000. She said that was a significant reduction from what Sun Life wanted.

This means Cole County is responsible for the first $85,000 an employee claims. Any claims above this limit will be paid by Sun Life.

Snodgrass added that the Sun Life contract includes a “no laser” agreement. Lashing is when insurers exclude employees at high risk for medical claims from stop-loss coverage. A non-laser agreement means that no one person will see exceptions or higher stop-loss limits.

Dental insurance with Sun Life will increase 5 percent, Snodgrass said, but that amount will go into “interest retention” for the next two years. Vision and basic life insurance are already locked in rates so won’t change.

The biggest change will be in employee insurance costs.

Cole County Finance Director Debbie Malzner said the fixed cost rate for the county is increasing by 11 percent. Fixed cost insurance is when the insured (Cole County) pays a fixed premium that does not change once it is set.

“Because of that, and because we’re not raising the (employee) rate starting in 2018, I would propose raising that (employee rate) to 5.6 percent,” Malzner said.

She said it would only affect employees with children, family or a spouse on their insurance. For those with children, for example, payroll deductions will go from $91 per check to $96 per check.

“So it’s not really that much money, but it’s keeping up with the times,” Malzner said.

Single employees without dependents under their coverage will not be affected, she said.

Maltzner said it’s a gift to the county that it still fully funds the employees.

“Debbie is right. There are not many employers who can pay the full premium to employees anymore. County workers are very fortunate that this is still happening for them,” Snodgrass said.

Presiding Commissioner Sam Bushman said this was a great benefit.

UMR, United Healthcare and Sun Life have had plans with the county for some time, but 2023 was the first year with Smith Rx. Commissioners switched to Smith Rx from Optum Rx in 2022 to save an estimated half a million dollars in pharmacy costs.

Luekenotte said at the time that the switch could result in a nearly 60 percent reduction in pharmacy costs, or an estimated $506,000 in savings. Choosing Smith Rx also gave the county 100 percent of the pharmacy rebates.

He said those rebates will rise from $90,000 with Optum Rx to more than $300,000 with Smith Rx.

Smith Rx also offers mail-order prescriptions and a patient assistance program, which Optum Rx does not.

Commissioners unanimously approved the renewal of contracts with UMR, United Healthcare, Sun Life and Smith Rx, including the changes.

“The only little gripe I have is that we fully cover the costs for the worker, but we don’t say anything to the worker about, ‘You know, maybe you should stop that nicotine.’ In a year, when we’re sitting here, I’m going to suggest that you get such a good break if you only take the nicotine-free pledge,” said Western District Commissioner Harry Otto.

In other matters, the Commissioners shall:

Approved bid from Korsmeyer Fire Protection to upgrade the health department’s fire alarm system. The health department’s system has problems, and for $8,700, the company will get the system fully functional again, said Director Christy Campbell.

Signed an agreement with MECO Engineering for $118,690 to design and prepare plans to upgrade Hickory Hill Road from gravel to hard surface.

Approved deposit payment of $9,735.32 so that Cole County EMS can receive reimbursement of $27,904.03 from the Ground Emergency Medical Transport (GEMT) Uncompensated Reimbursement Program. The reimbursement is for unreimbursed costs accrued in 2021, but GEMT officials just released their final settlement, which found Cole County owes more than originally thought.

Approved social media and radio contracts with Zimmer Communications for Sheriff’s Department recruiting. Sheriff John Wheeler said the social media contract costs $3,900 a month and includes $1,200 for Facebook ads. The radio contract is worth $6,400 a month and expands the department’s reach to 94.3 KAT Country and 96.7 KCMQ.

Wheeler said the two radio stations will give his department access to some different demographics and reach a larger audience.

Despite bringing on some new staff, Wheeler said his department still has 18 people. He told commissioners he hopes Zimmer’s push will help “get over the hump” and get the sheriff’s department back to better staffing.

Approved agreement with Turnkey Mobile for body cam server support. Wheeler said the county previously had an agreement with Turnkey Mobile to store body camera data on a cloud server, but that didn’t work. He turned around and instead of paying tens of thousands of dollars a year for the cloud server, he purchased a physical server.

Turnkey server maintenance will cost $9,795 per year.

The full meeting is available at

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