published Friday, May 13th, 2011

County leery of switch to Cigna

by Dan Whisenhunt


1,900: Number of employees covered

$1 million: Savings promised by Cigna

Source: Hamilton County Commission

Hamilton County commissioners said Thursday they like saving money as much as the next elected body, but sounded wary of a proposal to save $1 million a year by switching insurance carriers.

Next week commissioners will consider hiring Cigna Health Insurance Co. instead of BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee. BlueCross has held the contract to administer the county’s insurance since commissioners switched from Cigna in 2003.

Cigna tried to win back the business in 2006, saying it could save $800,000 to $1 million, but commissioners renewed with BlueCross.

Now, though, with the county about to lose $10.5 million in revenue from the end of a sales tax agreement with Chattanooga, leaders are looking for savings wherever they can find them.

“We’ve had experiences with Cigna I’m confident have been resolved,” Mayor Jim Coppinger said. Nevertheless, “a lot of employees are going to be concerned when we go back to Cigna.”

The taxpayer-funded insurance covers 1,900 county employees, said Donna Garrison, county benefits and compensation manager. Commissioners can sign up for it, too.

“Compared to BlueCross we feel the difference in the proposals will create $1 million in savings,” Garrison said.

Commission Chairman Larry Henry said employees’ costs will not change if the county decides to switch to Cigna.

Brent Wick, Cigna vice president of sales, and New Business Manager Brenton Johnson were at the commission meeting Thursday to assuage any worries commissioners had. Johnson told commissioners the main focus would be to make county employees healthier to reduce claims.

Commissioner Greg Beck referred to some painful experiences he had with the company, but did not offer any specific details.

“My family had a bad experience,” Beck said. “It was really horrible. I’m just wondering if the claims are going to be better this time.”

Wick said the company has worked on improving its service to customers.

“We invested a significant amount of money to our claim call centers to drive our service levels to where they’re at today,” Wick said.

In other business:

• Commissioners discussed buying property for the new Red Bank Middle School. The property, which is directly behind the high school, will cost $546,000.

• Henry announced that a committee to begin redrawing the commission districts will include himself, Beck and Commissioner Fred Skillern.

about Dan Whisenhunt...

Dan Whisenhunt covers Hamilton County government for the Times Free Press. A native of Mobile, Ala., Dan earned a degree in broadcast journalism from the University of Alabama. He won first place for best in-depth news coverage in the 2010 Alabama Press Association contest; the FOI-First Amendment Award in the 2007 Alabama Press Association contest; first place for best public service story in the Alabama AP Managing Editors contest in 2009 for economic coverage; and ...

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MasterChefLen said...

The only way for Chattanooga and Hamilton County to really move forward is for Mayor Ron Littlefield and his "rubberstamp" city council to get the boot!

May 13, 2011 at 9 a.m.
klugermann said...

Cigna has transferred hundreds of jobs that used to be in Chattanooga to Connecticut and India since 2003. At the same time, BlueCross continues to invest heavily in the local economy. Our representatives in government should seriously consider this financial impact as well as Cigna's track record.

May 13, 2011 at 11:05 a.m.
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