The Woodward News

August 27, 2013

Commission reverses decision on health insurance provider

Rachael Van Horn
Woodward News

Woodward, Okla. — Woodward County Commissioners on Monday reversed an earlier decision from a meeting held nearly a month ago that changed group insurance coverage for county employees.

The vote to extend coverage with EID-Health Choice came after a feisty meeting lasting more than two hours.

In the meeting, nearly every Woodward County retiree since 2002 made sure their voices were heard.

The meeting was billed as an opportunity to direct questions to officials of OPEH&W - the insurance provider voted in by commissioners a month ago.

Vice President of OPEH&W, Ross Naylor was available by phone conference to attempt to answer questions from a crowd of nearly 30 retirees and county employees.

The group gathered in a downstairs meeting room of the courthouse, as the normal meeting room was too small to hold the large gathering.

Most became frustrated early in the process because the lack of large speakers made it nearly impossible to hear Naylor's comments by speaker phone.

However, from the demeanor of the retirees, a good sound system wasn't about to change many minds.

With the exception of a couple of lone voices, most liked their current company Health Choice and were pressing to remain with it.

"I covered the cost for my husband when I was employed with the county, and it did cost, but it was good insurance," said Woodward County retiree  Wilma Blaylock about Health Choice.

Woodward County employee Jerry Hunter mirrored Blaylock's statement.

"All these years, I covered my wife on the Health Choice policy and it cost me a lot of money, but I did it because it was going to be good when we retired," Hunter said. "Now we are faced with what we thought we were done with."

The vote Monday abandoned a vote July 29, whereby the commissioners approved a resolution to go with OPEH&W - a public employees (trust) group coverage through Blue Cross Blue Shield.

The decision to change companies was made because premiums were less expensive with OPEH&W  than with Health Choice and would allow employees to better afford the coverage of their families, said Tommy Roedell, District 1 county commissioner.

"I have personally researched this and it would save me about $1,800 per year," Roedell said. "But we when we made this decision to go with them (OPEH&W) we did not know it would affect the retirees."

Central to the retirees' concern over switching coverage, was the idea that they would no longer be enrolled in a closed insurance system as they are now with EID Health Choice.

Instead, with OPEH&W, when a retiree reaches 65, OPEH&W would take them out of the group and help them shop for the best Medicare supplemental insurance it can find for them available on the open market, Naylor said.

"That means you become an individual," said Odalee Craighead, unofficial spokesman for the retiree group.

That means, if a retiree, 65 or over, secured covered for say, a Medicare supplement for prescriptions and during the year they had a change in medication that was not covered under their current prescription supplemental, they would be faced with having to change coverage or pay the difference, Naylor said.

"Why, you could be changing every year," Blaylock said. "And all the paperwork that involves..."

Currently, retirees know what is covered under the Health Choice drug formulary, Craighead said.

Among many other complaints about the OPEH&W program was also the "donut hole" that is present in its drug coverage for everyone enrolled, active and under 65-year-old retirees alike, Craighead said.

A "donut hole" is a certain span of costs that are not covered under the plan, Craighead said.  

For instance, with OPEH&W, if your drug costs reached $2,850 within your plan year, you would cover the total costs of your drugs from $2,850 until it reached $4,580 and then it would pick up the costs of the drugs again, she said.

Naylor verified this information in the meeting, but countered with the low number of cases in which covered drugs reach that high a level.

Other concerns included the past financial health of the OPEH&W trust, the small group of employees working to pay claims for OPEH&W (there are allegedly seven employees who work for the group) as well as concerns over finding in network physicians.  

When the hearing portion of the meeting ended, many retirees openly thanked the commissioners for hearing them and acting upon their concerns.

"I think we had to go with the majority and the majority, including many of the active employees wanted to stay with Health Choice," said District 3 Commissioner, Vernie Matt.

In other business, commissioners approved the county's cash fund estimate of need and request for appropriations for August, which amounted to $97,906 per district.

"It's up about $40,000," Roedell said. "And that $40,000 is felt."

Commissioners also approved a transfer of older equipment- rescue truck No. 15 from the Woodward Fire Department to the Mooreland Fire Department.