By Krystal Spring/Havre Daily Newsfirstname.lastname@example.org
Finding an insurance plan to fit the health care needs of Havre's city employees is no small task. Union and nonunion representatives from the Havre fire, police and public works departments, all of whom are currently negotiating labor contracts with the city, have formed a committee to look into health insurance options for city workers.
"We're slowly moving forward," said Kelly Schafer, who represents the public works employees union. "We're looking at three different options for insurance right now. But we're still in the planning stage; nothing is definite yet."
City Council member and Labor Negotiations Committee chair Terry Schend said the city's current insurance plan, administered by Allegiance Benefit Plan Management of Missoula, is in need of a change.
"The present insurance plan is almost unheard of now," he said. "There's no deductible for emergency room visits and an extremely low deductible for other health care visits."
City Council member Tom Farnham said the city's health insurance plan and premium costs remained relatively unchanged for several years. But after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, insurance premiums jumped across the nation, he said.
In 2003, the city of Havre saw its insurance premiums increase by 45 percent. The city paid half of the increase, and the employees paid the remaining portion.
"Right now all the city employees are paying the same rate for their insurance," Farnham said. "It's the same insurance coverage with the same premium across the board."
The city employee groups were scheduled to renew their insurance plans on Aug. 1.
"We're hoping to get that deadline extended," Schafer said Sunday. "We don't want to renew until we've looked at all our options."
Schafer said the insurance committee has met several times over the past few months to discuss new alternatives for health insurance. The group is now considering three insurance options. The first, option A, is the city's current plan.
"It's basically the same coverage that we have now," Schafer said. "If this option is chosen, we can expect to see another increase in our insurance costs."
Schafer said option B would implement slightly higher deductibles and co-pays on medical visits, and insurance premiums would remain at the amount they are now. Option C calls for even higher deductibles on doctors' visits, which could mean a decrease in insurance premiums.
"The hope is that if bigger deductibles are implemented, all those insured with the city could see a drop in their insurance costs," Schend said.
Schafer said the insurance committee is also considering another alternative - one that would allow each employee to choose one of the three plans that best suits their health care needs.
"We don't know yet if that will work, but we're looking into it," he said.
Schafer said the insurance committee plans to meet again sometime this month, but no date has been set.