Friday, May 14, 2010

Hailey eyes joining insurance pool

Ketchum administrator says move could save thousands each year

Express Staff Writer

It worked in Montana and Ketchum City Administrator Gary Marks thinks it will work in Idaho. By combining city employees' health insurance plans and underwriting them collectively, Marks says cities could save thousands of dollars each year.

Marks and former Whitefish, Mont., colleague Charlynn Harless proposed a collective bargaining "joint powers agreement" Monday to the Hailey City Council that would pool insurance policies for public employees in Ketchum, Hailey and several other Idaho cities.

Marks said pooling the policies under one umbrella would allow for disclosure of "loss ratio" data, which measures insurance premium costs against the cost to pay for claims. He said big insurance companies use loss-ratio data to establish the true cost of insurance, but that state law required it only be disclosed to cities that insure more than 100 people.

Harless said she spent seven years pooling insurance policies in several Montana cities, saving the city of Whitefish at least $400,000 in insurance costs since 2004. Whitefish has a population of 8,200, about the same as Hailey.

The entire pool of employee policies in the Montana cities organized by Harless was 4,000. She and Marks hope the plan afoot in Ketchum and Hailey will extend to the cities of Gooding, Fruitland, and Garden City, bringing the total number of employee policies to 400.

"The bigger the pool, the more clout you have," said Harless.

Marks said Ketchum has paid about $5 million in health insurance premiums since the inception of its plan with Blue Cross of Idaho in 2004. He estimates that since 2004, the city has paid Blue Cross about $1.5 million more than its claims.

If Hailey makes an initial three-year commitment to the proposed joint powers agreement, the city will begin by collecting data on its insurance claim costs.

Harless said after becoming self-insured the city could save 10 percent on insurance costs in the first year.

City Administrator Heather Dawson said the benefits committee was considering the option and she would bring their findings before the City Council in about a month.

In other Hailey news:

· City Councilwoman Martha Burke was appointed to the Blaine County Airport Advisory Committee.

· The city gave final approval to an ordinance to allow residents to keep three chickens at single-family homes on property in various zoning districts.

· Officer Kenny McClure was hired by the Hailey Police Department. He will live in Ketchum.

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