By Polina Noskova
The national trend of rising health insurance costs is affecting local governments in the Rockbridge area.
In a recent work session, the Rockbridge County Board of Supervisors agreed to begin discussion about possibly shopping for new health insurance policies for County employees.
County Administrator Spencer Suter said that although the rates have been “fairly consistent with no dramatic increases” over the past couple of years, the Board of Supervisors wants to be ready to deal with any upcoming changes.
Suter noted that group rates don’t tend to go up as much as with individual insurance policies, but a lot of factors play into future rate increases, including effects from the Affordable Care Act and medical-care experience levels of employees.
Although the county has used Local Choice Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield “for some time,” Suter said the board is discussing hiring a health insurance consultant who would evaluate proposals from various insurance companies and also negotiate rates.
A professional would be necessary to analyze the cost, quality and impact of the new health insurance policies on Rockbridge County employees and the community in general. A lot of factors have to be taken into consideration, such as benefits for family members, co-pay amounts and dental coverage.
Suter said the board could opt to pay the foreseen increased cost of the insurance policies, or it could be passed on to the employees. He said that the shopping process could start next year.
The City of Lexington uses Anthem Local Choice as well, and the average rate increase over the past five years has been 4.96 percent. City Manager Noah Simon said that since this is not a dramatic increase in cost, the city has not done anything different.
Lexington pays 90 percent of the lowest plan option for an employee, so as the rates increase both the city and employee shoulder the cost.
According to the Commonwealth Fund, a private foundation that supports independent research on healthcare issues, health insurance costs have been particularly high compared with medium income, especially in Southern states.
In the Commonwealth Fund’s January 2015 issue brief it said that the annual cost of workers’ contributions to premiums has nearly doubled nationally, and is up as much as 175 percent.
They said that although premium growth rates have slowed from 2010-13, the first three years the Affordable Care Act has been in effect, the growth continues to outpace incomes.