After considerable debate Monday night, the Hughes County Commission moved in a special meeting to meet again on Nov. 29 to finalize its health insurance plan for 2022.

The commission heard presentations Monday evening from Zach Clark of Pierre’s Clark Insurance — the current agency for Hughes County’s health insurance — and Sonja Nordbye of Sioux Falls’ Risty Benefits and debated all options before ultimately deciding to meet again, allowing time to digest the plans laid out before them.

“Essentially what we’ve got is we’re talking about renewing the existing plan, and then we’ve got an option with the same insurance company to reduce the benefits to the employee, thereby reducing the cost, and then we’ve got an option that would completely change the way we’ve done our insurance — offer only one plan at a standard deductible that’s higher than our base plan and then pay that deductible down to a number that’s a little closer to where we’re offering right now,” Hipple said on Thursday. “And do that, basically a partially-self-insured plan for the county. And then we’ve got a proposal from another entity to do something similar, where we would offer a higher-deductible, lower-cost plan and then pay the deductible down within that process by the county.”

At the heart of the matter is a 28.5 percent increase in rates on Hughes County’s current plan that officials are attempting to avoid. Hughes County changed carriers from Dakotacare to Wellmark in 2017 due to a 24 percent rate adjustment and hasn’t seen increases in 2020 or 2021, according to a proposal distributed by Clark Insurance.

“It will depend on whether they change the parameters of the plan,” Hipple said of whether the county’s insurance costs will ultimately go up. “If they put more risk on the employee, then the county could save money. And then we could also say we’re going to have the same plan, but the employees are going to pay a higher percentage of that cost. So there’s ways for the county to save money, but it’s going to cost somebody something.”

Commissioner Connie Hohn brought up a number of measures Monday that could help the county save on insurance costs, including the notion that the commission receive part-time health insurance benefits instead of the full-time benefits they receive currently.

“Our part-time employees only get part-time health insurance,” Hohn said. “We get the whole premium. We get the whole package. But I don’t feel like we’re working full-time here. So what I’m saying is maybe we should reduce our benefit as part of the savings plan.”

Hughes County budgeted $95,000 for a health insurance cost increase in the coming year. However, the county has seen harder times in 2021 as Hughes County Jail is running below capacity while searching for more correctional officers and the amount the county government is paying for court-appointed attorneys has increased.

“Because of a jail, and because of our court-appointed attorneys, we’re penalizing everybody that works in our county,” Commissioner Tom Rounds said. “I have a real hard time with that. I do. If we do that, we’re not going to have any employees left.”

The next full commission meeting is scheduled for Dec. 6, which Hipple said would be “pushing things” as far as time is concerned. Thus, the commission moved to hold another special meeting on Nov. 29 to allow time for the 2022 plan to be put in place.

“One of the concerns, though, I have, and I’ve had all year is we’re losing employees left and right,” Rounds said.

After insurance discussion ceased, the commission also voted unanimously to raise the pay of county employees 3 percent in the coming year. Hughes County Sheriff Patrick Callahan also announced, and the commission approved, the resignations of three correctional officers and the rescinding of an employment offer to a fourth individual.

Michael Woodel | 605-224-7301 ext. 131

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