Unicoi County Commission opts for state health insurance plan

Sue Guinn Legg • Updated May 5, 2020 at 8:05 AM

ERWIN — The Unicoi County Commission voted Monday to switch its employee health insurance carrier from Blue Cross Blue Shield to Tennessee's State Health Plan.

The switch was recommended by insurance broker Jon Manfull, who has been negotiating the county’s employee health insurance contracts for the past 13 years.

While the move to the state plan will result in a 1.29 percent increase in county employees’ current insurance premiums, the figure compares to a 22.9 percent premium increase sought by their current carrier.

According to Manfull, the search for other carriers also resulted in an offer from United Health Care with premiums 13 percent higher than the county’s current employee premiums. Meanwhile, Cigna and Aetna both declined to offer plans to the county, saying their premiums would not be competitive.

Manfull recommended the county remain with its current dental insurance carrier, Ameritus, which he said came at a lower cost for a richer package of benefits

The commission approved the move to the state health insurance plan and continues the current dental insurance coverage vote of 7 to 0 with two commissioners absent.

The vote came in a special called meeting intended to meet the state plan’s July 1 enrollment deadline.

Manful said employee premiums cited in the state plan were based on the county’s current contributions to their Blue Cross Blue Shield premiums.

On the request of Commission Chairman Loren Thomas, Mayor Garland “Bubba” Evely said a commission budget hearing will be conducted to nail down the county’s contribution to employee premiums prior to their enrollment period.

In closing the insurance discussion, Manfull said there has been some talk “flying around” in the community that indicated the county could have saved a significant amount of money by going to the state health plan years earlier.

Contesting those figures, Manful said he had compared insurance plans for the county every year since 2007 and this year was the first year that the state plan had been the most competitive option.

By choosing the more-competitive plans, he said, the county averaged a 1.43 percent annual increase in premiums over that time period, compared to an annual 2.7 percent increase in premiums offered by the state, for an overall savings of $671,000.