The two-year struggle to find a new insurance plan manager for the city of Macon looks like it won’t be resolved for many months to come -- and when it is, it won’t be done by the city of Macon at all.
A resolution heading for the city’s Employee Development & Compensation Committee on Sept. 12 would let Mayor Robert Reichert buy “stop-loss” insurance from Coventry Health Care of Georgia on 1,192 employees, for $60.55 per employee per month. That’s about $1.2 million over the rest of the time that Macon will exist as an independent entity. On Jan. 1, 2014, Macon and Bibb County governments will merge.
“The administration basically decided that they were not going to do anything on that pending the consolidation vote,” said Councilman Tom Ellington, who in January sponsored a resolution asking Reichert to overturn a city staff recommendation and hire BB&T as consultant on finding a new insurance administrator.
“I’m disappointed on how this whole situation’s been handled,” Ellington said.
Macon is self-insured, but it pays Coventry to administer the city plan. Stop-loss insurance protects the city insurance fund against extremely high claims; the proposal is for up to $2 million coverage per employee’s lifetime.
Dale Walker, the city’s interim chief administrative officer, confirmed that the city will continue paying Coventry month to month until consolidation. He said a BB&T contract was ready to go before council, but he withdrew it after the July 31 consolidation vote.
“We had asked BB&T to work with us, but when consolidation was looming we backed up and said ‘We will just wait to see if we will be going into this with the county,’ ” Walker said. “Since we now know we will consolidate, that is one issue that can wait and let the transition committee decide; otherwise it can wait until 2014.”
In previous talks with council, he has said that since insurance companies generally make their profits during the later years of contracts, firms would be unlikely to bid -- or at least provide a good price -- for a relatively short term.
Ellington said he doesn’t know whether the city might still save money by seeking an insurance consultant, then getting bids for a new plan provider. He hasn’t analyzed what the consultant and search would cost versus what it costs to stay with Coventry for the duration.
“I think there might still be some value in shopping the market again, but we’re still dependent on the administration to act,” Ellington said. “Really, it should never have gotten to the point where consolidation was the issue to begin with.”
In September 2010, Macon City Council approved a new employee health insurance plan, and accordingly it prepared to find a new plan manager to put into place the expected changes. Coventry’s contract ran out more than a year ago, but the firm agreed to continue as administrator on a month-to-month basis until a new one was found.
The first step in finding a new administrator, council members decided, was to hire a consultant to help with the search. Council members said then that they wanted to find a consultant as soon as possible.
A staff committee unanimously recommended the Atlanta office of Gallagher Benefit Services, which bid $65,000 for the job.
The runner-up was the local office of BB&T, which bid $15,000 less than Gallagher. Nevertheless, Human Resources Director Ben Hubbard said Gallagher’s experience and additional expertise made that firm the best choice.
Council committees disagreed, repeatedly questioning the administration’s choice. In May 2011, Councilwoman Elaine Lucas specifically instructed Hubbard to recommend BB&T instead. Eight months later, Ellington’s resolution passed council 12-2, with council members Henry Ficklin and Nancy White opposed and Virgil Watkins absent.
Considering that it would probably take a consultant several months to work out the city’s insurance needs and then a few more to actually bid out the administration job, Ellington said he hasn’t decided whether to renew his push for hiring BB&T to find an administrator for perhaps a year or less.
“I’m still pondering the options on that,” he said. “What we’re talking about is for a fairly limited term, and that would make this less attractive to some companies. I don’t have a firm answer on that right now.”
To contact writer Jim Gaines call 744-4489.