Ukiah: Supervisors consider appointing ad-hoc committee on retiree health insurance

The County Board of Supervisors is considering appointing an ad-hoc committee to consider ways to preserve health benefits for retirees but some supervisors think the issue is too important to discuss  behind closed doors. -DB

January 27, 2010
By Tiffany Revelle

Conflict about forming an ad-hoc committee to study available choices was the sticking point in a Tuesday debate about how to preserve health benefits for county retirees.

Supervisor John McCowen’s motion to form an ad-hoc committee failed in a 2-2 vote, with Supervisors Carre Brown and John Pinches opposed, and Supervisor David Colfax absent.

“An ad-hoc committee can meet at any time without … transparency to the public, retirees and fellow supervisors,” Chairwoman Brown said. “I strongly believe, given the times that we’re in and the poor financial condition of the county, that it all should be public discussion and everyone should hear the same information, and it gives everyone the opportunity to participate.”

Pinches concurred, saying he wasn’t happy with the ad-hoc committee process. Two speakers also expressed skepticism about county ad-hoc committees during the public input portion of the debate.

McCowen said ad-hoc committees only make recommendations, and any decision based on those recommendations is made in a public meeting subject to the Brown Act, which says the public’s business must be discussed in public.

“The result of not having an ad-hoc might in effect be that we have a board that is less well-informed, that has no one who has directly participated in the discussions; no one has the comprehensive background when it comes to the board, and it becomes much more of a staff-driven process, who has no Brown Act consideration and can meet as many times as they want among themselves and develop the programs that they want, so to me there is clearly a public benefit to having a couple of board members directly involved,” McCowen said.

McCowen went on to say ad-hoc committees can explore a more full range of options, because in public meetings, “there’s less willingness to just brainstorm things and throw stuff out, and it can actually restrict the conversation and the ability to explore different options.”

The board will reconsider forming an ad-hoc committee next Tuesday, when Colfax is expected back. The committee would review health plans available as the county considers switching health insurance providers, according to Bordan Darm, from the Sacramento consulting firm Mercer.

The board also voted 4-0 to accept an update and approve a proposed work plan for exploring ways to make the county’s health plan for retirees sustainable.

The insurance reserve that funds retirees’ health care is dwindling because of decreasing investment earnings and rising health care costs, according to an update from county staff and Darm.

“The status of the retiree health insurance reserve is precarious, with the depletion of the reserve expected in early 2011 or sooner, depending on claims experienced in the coming months,” Human Resources Director Teresia Haase said during the report.

Darm said he asked seven major health insurance carriers for quotes to provide insurance to the county’s retirees, both individually and as a group. He got two quotes, only for Medicare-eligible retirees.

“Basically, the consensus that we got back from the marketplace was there is not a fully-insured option available for those that are non-Medicare-eligible,” Darm said. “We’d have to look at some form of self-funding option for the early retirees.”

The quotes from United Health Care and Aetna for a supplemental program to Medicare could result in savings for the county, according to Darm. He said the two companies will go through an interview process to ensure the plans and their costs are in the county’s best interest.

The board also approved a request to reinstate the county Executive Office’s Retiree Health Benefits Committee, which hasn’t met since July 2008.

Recommendations are expected in April, and implementation possibly in January 2011. A request for bids will go out, with changes to be proposed in September and possible changes to be implemented in January 2011.

Copyright 2010 Ukiah Daily Journal