Insurance cost to drop at Mehlville Fire Protection District

Hilmer anticipates fire board will take final action Dec. 13

By MIKE ANTHONY

Mehlville Fire Protection District officials project the cost of employee health benefits next year will drop to less than $1 million — the district’s lowest cost since 1999.

During a Board of Directors meeting last week, Dean Eggerding, vice president of the Hoffman Group Inc., presented proposals from GHP, Anthem (Blue Cross Blue Shield) and United HealthCare for employee health insurance for 2007. GHP is the district’s current provider.

The Board of Directors took no action on any of the insurance proposals at the Nov. 30 meeting, according to Chairman Aaron Hilmer. Hilmer told the Call that he anticipates final action on employee health benefits would be taken when the board meets at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 13, in the district’s Training Facility, 11020 Mueller Road.

GHP, which proposed the lowest rate increases of the three companies, presented two proposals for employee health insurance. For the first option, benefits would remain unchanged, resulting in a 12.33-percent increase in premiums to the district.

For the second option, employees would pay slightly more for office visit co-payments and for prescription drugs, resulting in a 9.29-percent increase in premiums to the district.

Hilmer told the Call he will recommend to the board that it approve the second option, which is estimated at $886,000.

While the proposed cost of employee dental insurance must be firmed up, it is estimated at $68,000, and employee vision benefits are estimated to cost $19,000, according to Hilmer.

The total cost for employee health, dental and vision benefits for 2007 would be roughly $973,000.

Free health, dental and vision insurance in which the district pays 100 percent of the premiums is offered to district employees.

In 2006, the district paid 70 percent of the premiums for medical and dental insurance and 100 percent of the premiums for vision insurance for employees’ dependents.

But starting in 2007, the district will pay 50 percent of the cost of dependent coverage for health and dental insurance and 100 percent of the cost of vision insurance.

During last week’s meeting, Hilmer urged the board to consider reducing the cost of dependent vision coverage to 50 percent to coincide with the dependent health and dental insurance.

The Board of Directors had voted earlier this year to reduce the district-paid percentage of health and dental insurance.

During a July 21 Board of Directors meeting, members of the Executive Board of Local 1889 of the International Association of Fire Fighters said they believed the 70-percent dependent coverage should remain unchanged. Noting the district had paid 100 percent of dependent coverage until last year, they said 70 percent was fair.

On July 27, Hilmer noted that the union’s proposal was not to change the percentage of district-paid dependent coverage.

“That doesn’t help us. That doesn’t help us with the $120,000 pay packages that have been discussed here before …,” he said, making the motion to change the percentage to 50 percent.

Board Treasurer Bonnie Stegman joined Hilmer in approving the motion. Board Secretary Dan Ottoline Sr. was opposed.

Since 1999, the district’s cost of health benefits has been:

• 1999 — $844.965.

• 2000 — $1,116,829 — a 24-percent increase from the previous year.

• 2001 — $1,313,280 — a 15-percent increase from the previous year.

• 2002 — $1,429,368 — an 8-percent increase from the previous year.

• 2003 — $1,432,440 — almost a zero-percent increase from the previous year.

• 2004 — $1,516,200 — a 6-percent increase from the previous year.

• 2005 — $1,319,470 — a 15-percent decrease from the previous year.

• 2006 — $1,074,321 — a 23-percent decrease from the previous year.

Hilmer told the Call if the board approves option 2 for medical insurance, the district’s cost for health benefits will be at the lowest level since 1999.

“If we take Option 2 (for medical insurance), we’re going to be at $973,000. The last time we were underneath a million dollars was 1999,” Hilmer said. “We are at our lowest cost in seven calendar years for health insurance, yet we’re still offering better health insurance than any other public entity in south county, be it St. Louis County police officers, Mehlville School District, Lindbergh School District, and you wonder: How can you do that?

“Once you introduce something as simple as a deductible where there once was none; now that we’re not giving out free health insurance to employees’ kids ’til they’re 26 — that’s how we got that number,” he explained.