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Insurance costs rising for Hidalgo County

Hidalgo-County-SealThe cost of insuring personnel for Hidalgo County and the drainage district is rising.

Gary Looney, Hidalgo County’s health benefits consultant, gave a presentation on Alamo Insurance costs at Tuesday meeting of the Commissioners Court, explaining increased costs. Looney projected the total costs to be $24.5 million, which is paid by Hidalgo County and premium charges to employees. The county pays the cost of the base premiums for employees. If the employees want higher-level coverage or insurance for their families, they must pay additional premiums themselves.

To keep costs for the county down to a manageable level, budget officers recommended increasing the deductible in the base plan from $1,000 to $1,250. Also, the office co-pay for base plans would be $25 for a primary physician and $35 for a specialist. The in-hospital co-pay would rise to $350, a $100 increase, and the cost of the basic plan for a family will be $332.40, an increase of $55.40

Those paying for the high plan will have a deducible of $750. There would be a $30 co-pay for primary doctors and $40 for specialists. The in-hospital co-pay would rise to $350. Employees on the high plan would pay $43.40 a month, an increase of $12.40, while the family premium will rise to $502.60 per month, a difference of $143.60 a month.

The premium Hidalgo County must pay for employees is $469 per month. The estimated total cost is $21,014,952 or 86 percent of the total cost, while employees will fund $3,480,302 of the total cost.

Employees of the Hidalgo County Water District No. 1 will also pay the same costs for insurance.

Also Tuesday, Teresa Flores, head of Head Start told county officials the program lost $1,327,253 as the result of sequestration. Twenty-one employees were eliminated. For those who were left, the cost of health insurance was figured at $1,2333,434; Head Start had an $89,000 shortfall in funding for insurance.

County Judge Ray Ramon said with the county facing a $21 deficit budget there was simply no money to help the program with its increased insurance costs.

Flores said Head Start wanted to keep the number of children (3,600) who were receiving services. As a result, the 199 employees of the program were being asked to pay $72 per month per employee to cover the shortfall.

Maria Cantu, an audience member ,expressed concern that Head Start might be top heavy with teachers.

Flores answered there were two teachers for each group of 17 three-year-olds and 20 four-year-olds, as per state guidelines. Other employees included administrative staff, cafeteria workers, custodians and bus drivers.

Sergio Cruz, budget director, told commissioners all departments had been told to make 3 percent budget cuts. Still, the budget includes a $1.7 million increase in benefits for retirement, workers compensation and health insurance.

Cruz said employees were receiving no cost of living adjustments and the law enforcement officers are receiving no step pay this year. With these adjustments, the county only should draw $11.7 million from its reserves and should retain $22.7 million or 12.8 percent of the proposed budget at the end of the year.

Cruz projected the county would be able to replenish the fund balance through a 90-day rolling hiring freeze. All positions will stay vacant 90 days before employees are replaced, creating $2.3 million in savings. The county also usually receives revenues over the projected costs and different initiatives for cost savings.

Monthly budget workshops are planned after the 2014 budget is approved Sept. 24 to come up with additional sources of revenue for the coming year to help eliminate the need for future deficit budgets.

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