published Thursday, May 19th, 2011

Insurers fight for Hamilton County contract

by Dan Whisenhunt

BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee served notice Wednesday that it is fighting a proposal to switch the county’s insurance contract to Cigna.

Tony Pepper, business segment director of major accounts for BlueCross, told Hamilton County commissioners the company had filed a formal protest. In response to Pepper’s statements, commissioners decided to delay voting on the Cigna contract until May 26.

“BlueCross BlueShield is afraid that we’re going to lose your business,” Pepper said. “Your employees are afraid. Being afraid is not healthy.”

Many county employees have expressed reservations about the proposed change from BlueCross, citing problems experienced with Cigna before the county switched to BlueCross in 2003.

Commissioners who were on a panel when the insurance was with Cigna said it was not a pleasant experience. County commissioners are eligible for county insurance.

Cigna says it can save the county $1 million annually and the county is looking for savings everywhere this year. Administrator of Finance Louis Wright said the county spends $20.8 million a year on insurance, the bulk of which goes to paying claims.

Brent Wick, Cigna vice president of sales, said he thinks the company can convince the county that going with Cigna is the best option.

“We’re disappointed they didn’t go ahead and vote. However, we still feel confident,” Wick said.

Several county employees in the audience groaned and shook their heads as Russ Blakely, an independent benefits consultant, explained that Cigna today is not what it was eight years ago.

“When you were fully insured with Cigna all of [the] membership with Cigna experienced problems,” Blakely said. “Today you’re in a different product. It’s almost so different it’s like a different company.”

Pepper spent his presentation casting doubt on Cigna’s claims that it could save the county money.

Commissioner Fred Skillern said he wanted to see a draft of a contract with Cigna before he voted to approve anything. He also wanted an “escape” clause so the commission could terminate the contract if Cigna does not meet expectations.

Commissioner Greg Beck acknowledged that county employees are nervous about the potential switch.

“Our employees are so afraid,” he said.

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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rockman12 said...

Hey BCBS!! You want to keep the business then match the price quoted by Cigna. The county needs to switch and cut $1 million out of the budget. Everyone else has to tighten their belt and now it is your turn BCBS. Welcome to the new economy.

May 19, 2011 at 7:43 a.m.
ordinaryguy said...

Great week for BCBST! First the outrage over pay, then the hubby of the missing woman, now this. Way to go Blue!

May 19, 2011 at 9:50 a.m.
bpqd said...

Considering the proximity of the Cigna sales office to Chattanooga City government buildings, one has to wonder who's going to get the benefit of what monetary favor from this.

The idea that people are going to get the same service for a million dollars less may sound great at first, but it's just not plausible. What is Cigna going to do, import healthcare from Canada? Send City employees to an African refugee camp to get treatment? The costs incurred are the costs incurred.

Or, maybe they plan to "save" by not providing payment for medical care. This way, they could get paid for not doing anything equitable.

Too bad that we expect equity.

Cigna has a reputation for tracking its tracking, not being efficient. It's unlikely that there will be a genuine savings in services. If there were such a realistic savings offered, it'd probably be a matter of 2% or less in the price difference.

Don't let the Cigna executives take the City executives to the Golf and County Club at 10 a.m. on Monday morning. We need everyone working instead. Save the bribery buffet for Friday night and Saturday afternoons, or Sunday morning prayer breakfast at Wally's. Thanks.

May 19, 2011 at 11:45 a.m.
ordinaryguy said...

This is COUNTY not city!

May 19, 2011 at 12:18 p.m.
HCE said...

Enough about how much the county will save, lets hear how much the county employees will save, or is that not on the agenda.

May 19, 2011 at 12:54 p.m.
Leaf said...

Cigna might be slightly cheaper, but the service they give borders on (and sometimes crosses) the line of criminality. Ask any state employee or health care provider how they feel about Cigna.

May 19, 2011 at 5:06 p.m.
ChrisC said...

When so many people are sceptical about the move to Cigna insurance, it can't be a good thing. They should look deeper at the reasons why so many people are reluctant about the change, and even if the can save million dollars, is the change worth it?

Chris -

May 31, 2012 at 10:56 p.m.
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