Divided board OKs city insurance

Published 12:44 am Thursday, August 24, 2017


NATCHEZ — The Natchez Board of Aldermen voted 4-2 Tuesday to renew with the city’s health insurance provider, L S & Associates, without seeking other proposals.

Ward 3 Alderwoman Sarah Smith and Ward 5 Alderman Benjamin Davis dissented.

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With the board’s decision, the city will retain the same health insurance plan as last year, but will switch to a different claims administrator. The switch from Medova Healthcare Financial Group to Covenant Healthcare will reportedly save the city approximately $30,000 this upcoming fiscal year.

The decision came to the ire of Natchez Mayor Darryl Grennell, who requested that the city first hold a public hearing to get feedback from employees before making a decision.

“My request is that we have a hearing for our employees to hear what their concerns are before we sign off on any health insurance,” Grennell said during his report.

As an example of a concern, Grennell said he spoke Monday to a person covered under the city’s health insurance plan who reportedly had to drive to Baton Rouge because the area’s only dermatologist is not an eligible provider in the city’s plan.

Grennell also invited local physician Dr. John White to speak, who said he was unsure whether he or other local physicians would be included on the list of providers if the city renewed its healthcare plan.

Les Smith, head of L S & Associates, responded that the dermatologist is the only physician in the city not listed as a provider, but Smith said the healthcare plan has treated the dermatologist as if he were in their network.

Alderwoman Smith reiterated her stance that the board should seek other proposals, saying she had many questions before that need to be answered before making a decision.

“There’s so many questions,” she said. “I don’t know what the pharmacy bill is; do we have any rebates on those? If we get any rebates where do they go?”

Sarah Smith said she did not have enough information to compare Covenant to Medova, and made a point that the city has time to do more research.

“It’s not even until October — why would we not do our due diligence? That doesn’t pass the smell test,” she said. “This is our employees, this is taxpayers, this is a lot of information … we’ve got a lot of stuff to understand with this.

“You go to get a used car and you want to get more than one company to give you a price on it. I don’t understand why you wouldn’t want to get another one.”

Ward 6 Alderman Dan Dillard — an outspoken proponent of retaining L S & Associate’s services — acknowledged Smith’s inquiries, but said she has had opportunity to explore them.

Dillard said the “volatile” state of healthcare in Adams County and the country as a whole makes locking down a healthcare plan all the more necessary.

“We backed into (an RFP) last year all the way down to Sept. 28 to try to get everyone enrolled by October, and you’re going to get to a point where you’re going to have a choice between having insurance or no insurance,” Dillard said.

“The program we have right now is very competitive.”

The insurance plan has a $1,000 deductible with a maximum out-of-pocket cost of $2,000 per employee. City employees also have an option to pay $12 a month and essentially “buy down” to a $500 deductible with a $1000 maximum payout.

On average, the city’s cost per employee is approximately $612 per month, which comes to approximately $1.4 million total per year, Interim City Clerk Megan Edmonds said.

Ward 1 Alderwoman Joyce Arceneaux-Mathis said city leaders had all the information they needed to make a decision, adding that employees who have potentially had issues have already had opportunities to voice their concerns at previously held meetings.

“It’s amazing that these situations keep coming up after we’ve decided what we’re going to do,” Arceneaux-Mathis said.

Grennell questioned why the board would not want to hold a public hearing for employees before making a final decision.

“What is wrong with having a hearing with our employees to make sure that we have no issues before we (renew this program)?” Grennell asked in response to Arceneaux-Mathis. “Do you not want to hear from your employees?”

Arceneaux-Mathis rebutted that the board has given ample opportunities for employees to answer questions, and that the board had an opportunity at Tuesday’s meeting to have Les Smith clear up any confusion.

She then addressed her concerns with those who are opposing the renewal, using Sarah Smith’s own phrase against her.

“It’s a democratic process, but there’s an underlying of ‘I didn’t get the votes, so let me go this route,’ and that’s what I don’t like,” Arceneaux-Mathis said. “It doesn’t pass the smell test for me. It doesn’t smell good at all.”

After Les Smith made the case that his service was “the largest statewide network of any network out there,” Dillard moved to renew the insurance with L S & Associates while switching to Covenant as a claims administrator. Arceneaux-Mathis quickly seconded.

Before the vote, Grennell directly asked Les Smith how he was able to get a quote from Covenant when last week Smith told the board he had not received necessary claims information from Medova.

Les Smith responded that change to a different administrator would not affect the actual insurance plan.

Sarah Smith brought up the lack of information from Medova about this year’s claims information, but Les Smith said that information was not necessary.

“I didn’t need the claims. We’re renewing the health insurance program that we have.”

The board subsequently passed the renewal by the 4-2 majority.

Arceneaux-Mathis then moved to approve renewal of the city’s supplemental insurance, the second part of the program’s primary-secondary health insurance system.

That motion also passed by the same 4-2 majority.

Once the votes passed, Ward 4 Alderwoman Felicia Irving voiced concern from past occurrences when the city has failed to make its insurance payments on time. She said the fact that insurance deductions come from employees’ paychecks in conjunction with the city’s failure to make payments almost seemed “intentional.”

“It’s as if it was done intentionally so that it can show that its insurance company is not doing what it’s supposed to do,” Irving said. “That’s not fair to the employees.”

Alderwoman Smith asked how recently these occurrences are that Irving was referring to, and Irving responded they were not recent because Edmonds has done a good job ensuring that payments have been made on time.

Alderwoman Smith said the statement of something underhanded going on in the city clerk’s office is “misleading to the public,” to which Irving said she was not referring to the clerk’s office.

Grennell inquired further.

“Who are you accusing of doing something underhanded?” Grennell asked.

“I’m (just) asking,” Irving responded. “You have people in the human resources department. They are the ones that do the deductions of payroll.”

Alderwoman Smith wanted to clarify that those issues have been corrected, and Grennell said the city had taken steps to ensure they won’t happen again.