County elects to remain with Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield as health insurance provider : KZHE News Blog
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County elects to remain with Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield as health insurance provider

by J.D. Bailey on 06/16/20

J.D. Bailey

The Columbia County Quorum on Monday night voted nearly unanimously to remain for another year with Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield as the county’s health insurance provider. The vote passed the Court by a 9-1 margin. Justices of the Peace Marjie Blair, Penny Cook, Annette Pate, Jason Ray, Burnie Sharp, Lynn Story, Oliver Thomas, Russell Thomas, and Rick Waller all voted “yes” on the motion. JP Steve Lee was the only “no" vote. JP Terry Williams was not present.

The move to remain with Blue Cross and Blue Shield will add an estimated $40.23 to each county employee’s monthly premium, due to the insurance provider raising its rates. The county’s premiums are set to increase 7.94%. The total annual cost for the new plan is expected to be $662,126.40. The figure accounts for the 95 full-time county employees currently on the county’s health insurance coverage.

The county workers, however, will not be burdened with the extra costs. The Court passed a second motion Monday that will have the county foot the bill for the extra premium amount. 

“Since we can't give raises this year, I think we ought to go ahead and pay the premiums," said Cook.

The majority of the other JPs agreed, voting by a 9-1 margin in favor of the motion. JP Steve Lee was the only dissenting vote.

The extra premium costs will be covered through transfers within departments, according to County Treasurer Selena Blair. The funds are primarily made up of extra Worker’s Compensation monies.

The only major changes in the new plan include an increase in in-network, out-of-pocket maximums and deductibles. The new plan will also see lower specialist office and urgent care visit costs, as well as most prescription medication costs.

The breakdown for the county’s current Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield plan versus the new Blue Cross and Blue Shield plan is as follows:

Current Rates New Rates

Physician Office Visit: $35 $35

Specialist Office Visit: $75 $70

Wellness: 100% 100%

In-patient hospitalization: Remains the same (Coins after Deduction)

Out-patient hospitalization: Remains the same (Coins after Deduction)

Emergency Room: Remains the same (Coins after Deduction)

Urgent Care Facility: $75 $70

Prescription Drugs

Tier I: $12 $10

Tier II: $50 $40

Tier III: $70 $60

Tier IV: $70 $120

In-Network Benefits


$2,000 (single)/$6,000 (family) $2,000 (single)/$4,000 (family)

Out-of-Pocket maximum:

$4,000 (single)/$8,000 (family) $6,000 (single)/$12,000 (family)

Member Co-insurance: 20% 20%

Out-of-Network Benefits


$2,000 (single)/$6,000 (family) $6,000(single)/$12,000 (family)

Out-of-Pocket Maximum:

$16,000 (single)/$32,000 (family) $14,000 (single)/$28,000 (family)

Member Co-insurance: 40% 40%

Lifetime Maximum: Unlimited Unlimited

The Quorum Court decided to stay with Blue Cross and Blue Shield after a presentation from Keith Walley, a representative from Gallagher Insurance, Risk Management, and Consulting. The other option would have changed the county over to an all-new health insurance provider, United Health Care (UHC). Walley noted that UHC tends to have higher increases than Blue Cross-Blue Shield from year-to-year.

The UHC plan had some advantages over the new Blue Cross and Blue Shield plan -- slightly lower office visit costs and lower out-of-pocket maximums -- but the monthly premiums would have been nearly $13 higher. The hassle of switching providers and the unknowns of a UHC were also major deciding factors.

“Having gone through a change, from one company to another, I’m not a big fan of that personally,” said Ray. “… I like history of Blue Cross and Blue Shield. They know us.”

Ray also noted that UHC is not “widely accepted” in the area.

The handful of employees in the audience on Monday were asked their opinion on the matter. All agreed with Ray’s sentiments. They stated that they would rather remain with their current provider instead of changing over every part of their health insurance and medications to a new company.”

“I love Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield,” said one employee.

Had the UHC plan been chosen, every county employee on coverage would have been automatically signed up for prescriptions through CVS Pharmacy -- a company that has no store in Columbia County.

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