Meridian Star

September 21, 2013

Mayor vetoes health care vote

By Terri Ferguson Smith /
The Meridian Star

MERIDIAN —     Mayor Percy Bland is challenging the Meridian City Council's recent decision to keep its health insurance provider rather than changing to one with a lower cost.

    On Friday, Bland vetoed the council's decision to continue with the city's current plan, Fox-Everett, over United Healthcare, the plan recommended by Business Management Group, which handles the city's plan.

    In his letter to the council, Bland said, "I feel strongly that the city should accept the lower bid for group health insurance proposed by United Healthcare."

    Bland said the city stands to save $280,000 by switching to United. The motion to keep Fox-Everett passed 4-1 Tuesday. Those voting in favor were Ward One Councilman George Thomas, president of the council; Ward Two Councilman Dustin Markham; Ward Three Councilwoman Barbara Henson; and Ward Four Councilwoman Kim Houston.

    Ward Five Councilman Randy Hammon voted against keeping Fox-Everett, saying the $280,000 in savings to the city was too big to ignore.

    In his letter, Bland addressed the council's objections to changing policies.

    "It has been asserted that UHC would not have sufficient time to make a transition by Oct. 1, 2013," Bland wrote. "I have attached correspondence from United Healthcare that states affirmatively that the transition can be completed in the time frame allotted."

    Bland was referring to a letter he received on Thursday from United, reiterating that the company could make the switch by the beginning of next month. He also said that some have said the UHC proposal uses different assumptions regarding claims than does the Fox-Everett proposal.

    "The independent agent that presented each of the proposals to us, both UHC and Fox-Everett based their bid on the exact same data...The large difference in cost is attributable to the fact that UHC has negotiated lower rates with providers than has Fox-Everett," Bland wrote.

    As to the Teladoc option, which the council did add to the Fox-Everett plan on Tuesday, Bland said that is not unique to Fox-Everett; it can be combined with any of the proposed carriers. Teladoc allows a person to speak with a doctor or nurse on the telephone instead of having to go an emergency room for a non-emergency event.

    "In light of the immense savings to the city obtained with using the lower cost UHC quote, I must veto this ordinance setting Fox-Everett as the provider for the city's group health insurance plan," Bland wrote. "I strongly urge you to designate United Healthcare as our insurance provider as quickly as possible."

    Contacted by telephone on Friday afternoon, Thomas said he had not yet seen the veto, but explained the options available when a mayor vetoes an action of the city council. The council can do nothing; and let the veto stand or it can call a special meeting to vote on the issue.

    The council of five members must have at least four votes to override the mayor's veto, Thomas said. If that happens, the council's previous vote to stay with Fox-Everett will stand. If there are less than four votes, the veto stands.

    "So unless the vote changes from the way it was during the original vote; it was a 4-1 vote at that time," Thomas said, "unless there is new information they have to bring to us, then I assume the vote would be the same."

    If the veto stands, then the city will be without health insurance until the council acts to adopt a new policy, Thomas said. Thomas said some of the concerns about changing the city's health insurance stemmed from uncertainty about what the UHC policy would offer.

    "If we knew everything would be exactly the same, we would feel better about it," Thomas said, "but we have people that have $4,000 and $5,000 in medical bills each month."

    One employee who is battling a serious illness, Thomas said, has $5,000 per month in medical expenses.

    "It costs him $35 a month," Thomas said. "If you have these people with high medical expenses, can we be sure that they can be grandfathered in with no new deductibles? I've received no complaints concerning the Fox-Everett insurance. Sometimes the cheapest program is not the best program."

    Thomas said there will likely be a special called meeting of the city council one day this week.