County medical plan lowers rates for employees

County medical plan lowers rates for employees

TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - Three major companies have announced they will team up to provide insurance to their employees, bypassing the traditional employer based programs.

Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway and JP Morgan Chase did not release details of their plans but it caused a ruckus on Wall Street which dropped 362 points dragged down by medical stocks.

But it's another sign the U.S. health care system is not working well and likely needs new and innovative ideas.

One of those ideas was put into practice in Pima County five years ago and has seen considerable success so far.

On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the best, Allyn Bulzomi, the Human Resources Director who devised the system says "it's a 20."

For the first time, Pima County will drop its rates for its employees.

"What's new this year is we're dropping our rates 5.68 percent," Bulzomi said.

The county is self-insured. It's not the first in the country to do so but it follows a great number of success stories.

"I think, for us, we found a better way," he said. "It may not be a better way for some people but for us, it's a better way."

Marchelle Pappas, a 20-year county employee agrees. A mother of five children, three of whom still live at home, she's seen a big drop in health care costs.

Under the old plan, "depending on broken bones, I have boys, it would be about $10,000 a year."

But under the new plan "it's about $6,000."

Pappas also dropped the new plan after the first year and switched back the old PPO.

"But when I compared costs, the high deductible was cheaper," she said. "So I went back."

She points out a concern many people have about high deductible plans, out of pocket costs which must be paid first.

Her cost is $4,000 which is defrayed by half by the county and is paid into a health savings account, which cuts tax expenses as well.

Bulzomi says some workers are skeptical of the high deductible plans.

"To learn to be a smart consumer was a little scary at first," Pappas said.

"You have to have skin in the game," Bulzomi said. "I give full credit to our success to our employees because they have become great health care shoppers."

The plan offers incentives to workers which can, in some cases can reduce their monthly premiums to zero.

If an employee doesn't smoke, it's $20 off per pay period. Other health incentives are annual wellness checks, exercise, and wellness surveys.

"I get all the discounts the county gives out which is nice to have," Pappas said.

Bulzomi also says the county will save $2.5 million on its drug plan alone which is taxpayer money.

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