Supervisors approve change in employee health insurance plan

The Allamakee County Board of Supervisors met in regular session Tuesday, November 18, discussing a relatively short agenda of just four items, but some of those taking some considerable time. Among the longest discussions was a proposed change in the County's employee health insurance plan that ultimately received Board approval later in the meeting.

Prior to any of the agenda items, Rachelle Howe of Upper Explorerland Regional Planning Commission spoke to the Board during Public Comment time in regard to a Brownfield Clean-Up Grant that would help cover the expense of asbestos removal and other possible hazardous materials that may emerge as a result of the proposed demolition of Makee Manor. The grant would result in an 80/20 cost share with the County, the County providing 20% of the clean-up cost amount and the grant funding the remaining 80%.

Howe advised the Board that the due date for the grant is December 19, and that there needs to be a series of requirements met prior to that application deadline, among those being a building contents assessment report and publication of a public notice prior to application for the grant. Allamakee County Sheriff Clark Mellick said he would be meeting with the County's consultant for the jail/public safety center project, John Hansen of Midwest Construction Consultants, later that same evening at a meeting of the Public Safety Committee, and would get the ball rolling on the required assessment of Makee Manor in an effort to meet that December 19 grant application deadline.

Howe also advised that she had met with the Allamakee County Planning and Zoning Commission in regard to the County's Comprehensive Plan. She reported that it seemed to be the consensus of the Commission and governmental leaders from each Allamakee County community to have all of those communities included within the County's Comprehensive Plan as well.

The Board then revisited the pending lease agreement for County Farm cropland, with Allamakee County Attorney Jill Kistler advising that the agreement had not been finalized as of yet due to soil samples needing to be taken on the land, but a crop remaining in the field preventing that from happening. It was agreed that the soil samples were not entirely necessary to complete the lease agreement, and Kistler was directed to finalize the agreement and distribute it to the Supervisors for their approval before then contacting each of the previous bidders on the cropland to see if they wanted to withdraw their previous bids in light of the new agreement that now includes a conservation plan.

Jean Bossom, Director of Allamakee Substance Abuse Prevention (ASAP), advised the Board that she intends to write the next Substance Abuse grant that provides funding for her department, instead of going through Helping Services for Northeast Iowa. Bossom's effort would save administrative costs that she said would have taken an estimated 40% of the grant funds awarded. The grant application is due December 10, with January 22 of the new year being the notification date on whether the County is awarded the grant.

Members of the County Employee Health Insurance Committee then addressed the Board, with Allamakee County Engineer Brian Ridenour serving as the Committee's chairperson and presenting the Board with a summary of the Committee's process for gathering information and ultimately coming to a decision on a change in the health insurance coverage for Allamakee County employees. The change was necessitated by the County's current employee health insurance provider, Gundersen Health Care, no longer being able to include Mayo Health Systems in its provider network, forcing County employees to either switch some of their primary healthcare providers or find different health insurance coverage.

Supervisor Dennis Koenig expressed his frustration with the situation. "Local people have to depend on local providers for their healthcare, and it just aggravates me when a provider pulls out of an arrangement like that," he said. "You already have a plan that you like and you want to stick with it, but then something like this happens to mess it all up."

Ridenour's summary explained that the Committee had requested quotes from a number of other health insurance carriers and that some were unable to provide those quotes in the timeframe allowed, while premium quotes from other carriers were too high to consider, with the exception of Midwest Group Benefits, which offers a policy from Coventry Health Care. Ridenour explained that the Coventry plan that the Committee recommends is comparable to the County's current policy with Gundersen Health Care, but the Coventry plan does not include vision benefits like the Gundersen plan did, and the premium for the Coventry plan is $642.06 per month versus the current premium of $596 for the Gundersen plan.

Brian Huinker, a representative of Midwest Group Benefits in Decorah and broker for Coventry Health Care of Iowa, was also in attendance to answer any questions the Board or Committee members may have in regard to the Coventry plan. He explained that Coventry comprises about 25% of the insurance business his company writes, and he also explained that he and his colleagues at Midwest Group Benefits would be willing and available to assist with any claim or coverage questions, rather than leaving employees' concerns up to the 800-number support system.

Ridenour further explained that employees would have the option of participating in a vision coverage plan at a cost of $6 per month. That coverage would be paid for by each employee through a payroll deduction option and would require at least 10 employees to sign up for in order to be available.

Following further discussion, the Board approved the health insurance change from Gundersen Health Care to Coventry Health Care of Iowa, including the seven-percent increase in premium paid for each employee from $596 per month to $642 per month per employee. Upon hearing the Board's approval, Scott Willger of the Allamakee County Secondary Roads Department and representative of Local Union 238, said that the Union had previously agreed that if the Board approved the change the Union would also approve and not require any further negotiation.