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Employees, retirees urged to be ‘judicious’ with ER visits

By MEGHAN RUSSELLStaff writer

County employees’ health insurance premiums will increase by 8.5 percent beginning July 1, as the Calvert County Board of County Commissioners adopted fiscal 2013 subsidy levels with a 4-1 vote on Tuesday.

Each year the commissioners approve the subsidy the county pays toward employee and retiree health insurance premiums. By increasing the premiums, the commissioners maintained the current subsidy levels of 90 percent for those who retired between Aug. 1, 1994, and June 30, 2008, and 75 percent for those who retired after that date. Depending on the individual employee’s plan, the monthly premium increase from this fiscal year to fiscal ’13 ranges from $3.44 to $99.56, the latter of which is for an individual whose family is covered under the Preferred Provider Organization plan.

Tim Hayden, director of the Calvert County Finance and Budget Department, said expected premium costs for fiscal ’12 totaled about $10.8 million, while expected costs for fiscal ’13 are $11.6 million. Historically, the county absorbs 80 percent of the cost while employees absorb the remainder. With the increase, the county was going to contribute about 84 percent, but the new premiums allow the county to absorb 81.1 percent, he said.

“The cost is going up, but we’re not changing our policy,” Commissioner Susan Shaw (R) said.

Commissioner Pat Nutter (R) voted against the measure, saying he thought Hayden’s memo regarding the increase was unclear and that he was led to believe the new premiums only affected retirees.

Nutter also joined the rest of the board in voting down staff’s suggestion, as recommended by CareFirst, to increase emergency room co-pays to $50. Currently PPO plan participants pay no co-pay and HMO participants pay $25 for emergency room visits, which Hayden said are one of the more expensive service delivery methods. That current co-pay structure, he said, could be perceived as encouraging individuals to use the emergency room over their regular doctor, thereby raising health insurance costs for the county.

If a patient is admitted to the hospital after visiting the emergency room, the co-pay is waived anyway, Hayden said.

But Nutter said he couldn’t agree with the proposal knowing seniors are more apt to use the emergency room over their regular doctor in case their symptoms really are an emergency.

Commissioners’ President Gerald W. “Jerry” Clark (R) said he would “absolutely not” support raising the co-pay to $50.

“We haven’t been able to give our employees any kind of raise over the last three to four years,” Clark said. “To raise this up to $50 ... is basically just a slap in the face of the employees. ... Not everybody in county government makes extra large salaries.”

Shaw added, “There’s a $15 co-pay if you go to the doctor, but in some instances you’re saving the $15 by going to the emergency room where there was no co-pay. ... Maybe a better way to handle it is just to remind our employees to be very judicious about using the emergency room.”

In other business, the commissioners:

Ÿ Proclaimed April the Month of the Young Child;

Ÿ Received an annual update from the College of Southern Maryland on the state of the college;

Ÿ Unanimously approved issuance of up to $17,955,000 in general obligation bonds for projects in the fiscal 2012 budget, to be bid on at the May 15 bond sale;

Ÿ Unanimously approved a letter of support approving capital construction projects for the Calvert County Board of Education in fiscal 2013;

Ÿ Unanimously awarded a contract to R&R Scapes and Maintenance LLC of Prince Frederick to provide grounds care services at 19 county sites and awarded a contract to Two Shores Lawn and Landscaping LLC of Owings to provide grounds care services at 15 county sites;

Ÿ Unanimously awarded a contract to Gradient Construction LLC of Chesapeake Beach to upgrade a water system servicing the Lakewood subdivision in Dunkirk, in the amount of $707,007.

mrussell@somdnews.com