Commissioners give OK to 10% health benefit boost next year

Bartholomew County government employees are getting a financial break on health insurance costs for next year.

While the self-insured county has been paying 70 percent of co-payments during physician visits this year, the Bartholomew County Commissioners have voted to raise the county’s contribution to 80 percent, commissioners chairman Carl Lienhoop said.

This week’s action prompted an objection from county resident Mike Lovelace, however, who noted the increased benefit was approved a month after the Bartholomew County Council approved a 40 percent increase in the local income tax rate.

Starting in January, the current tax rate of 1.25 percent of a worker’s gross pay will rise to 1.75 percent, following the 4-3 vote Oct. 10.

However, Lienhoop said annual health insurance deductibles have gone up as high as $6,000, which he believes has prompted total annual claims to fall well below normal amounts.

That’s an indication that deductibles are so high that employees are not seeking the medical care they need, Lienhoop said.

Following rises in claims that prompted county government’s health care costs to more than double from 2013 to 2014, the county has seen more than two consecutive years of steady financial growth in the health care trust, he said.

The growth has been enough to justify trimming back some of the additional financial burdens that have been placed on county employees, Lienhoop said.

After losing its entire information technology staff in 2016, a number of county administrators expressed concern to the county council last spring about the growing possibility of losing their most valuable employees to the private sector.

Although the county can’t usually compete with for-profit businesses in salaries, many employees choose to stay because the county has offered either exceptional or competitive benefits, administrators said.

In the payroll portion of the 2018 budget, the county council has approved a 3 percent salary increase for full-time employees.

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Mark Webber is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at mwebber@therepublic.com or 812-379-5636.