published Friday, May 27th, 2011

Hamilton commissioners make switch to Cigna

by Dan Whisenhunt

After a barrage of questions about which health insurance company was giving the county a better deal, it came down to the bottom line for Hamilton County commissioners.

Commissioners voted Thursday to switch from BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee to Cigna after being told it would save taxpayers roughly $2.5 million over three years without changing the level of service to employees.

But they made it clear that, if they even get a whiff of the problems the county had with Cigna before — primarily bad customer service — they will terminate the contract.

“You don’t have to get as bad as you were before for me to make a motion [to terminate],” Commissioner Fred Skillern told Cigna representatives who attended Thursday’s meeting. “You just start in that direction and I’m ready to make a motion.”

The contract has a 60-day out clause, Cigna Vice President of Sales Brent Wick said.

Tony Pepper, business segment director of major accounts for BlueCross, told commissioners last week that the company had filed a formal protest of the proposal to award the insurance contract to Cigna. Many county employees have expressed reservations about the change.

Cigna has told commissioners repeatedly it is a different company now and that it has beefed up its call centers to improve customer service. According to newspaper archives, other complaints about Cigna included dissatisfaction over rate increases and the availability of doctors.

Cigna representatives say the company can save the county $1 million annually. On Thursday, the commission learned it would be $2.5 million over three years because of costs to close out the contract with BlueCross.

County Administrator of Finance Louis Wright said the county spends $20.8 million a year on insurance, mostly to pay claims. He said the county will spend roughly $550,000 on “runout claims” that will be filed before the fiscal year ends June 30.

Skillern said he’s putting his trust in the recommendation of the county’s finance department.

“I happen to trust our financial department, and they’ve been right enough times to get us a AAA bond rating, and I’d like to assume they're right again this time,” 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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