Counties join the PA Health Insurance Purchasing Co-op

    Adams and Juniata move from a traditional health plan to a co-op.

    County leaders across the state are looking for ways to keep employee health costs in check. WHYY reports on one approach that is winning over budget-conscious county commissioners.

    Listen: [audio:091102tecoop.mp3]

    Adams and Juniata counties in Central Pennsylvania are the latest to join the County Health Insurance Purchasing Cooperative.

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    Commissioner George Weikert says Adams County is ditching its traditional health insurance plan.

    Weikert: It sort of takes the vendor, which is Blue Cross out of the picture, and we use this company which is called Benecon. They work with the vendors to get best prices and we put our money in a pool with all the other folks and buy or coverages that way.

    If employees stay healthy and costs are less than expected, Weikert says any surplus is returned to the county.

    The cooperative covers claims for everyday health care costs, but uses a traditional health plan for expensive, catastrophic medical claims.

    County officials say the idea is to get more market clout and negotiate better prices with local doctors and hospitals.

    Commissioner George Weikert says Adams County could save more than $200,000 in the first year.

    Lancaster County is considering joining the cooperative, too. The county is budgeting nearly $21 million for employee health costs next year. Commissioner Scott Martin says say that cost could drop to $18.5 million under the co-op plan.

    Martin: It makes a huge difference that if you finish a couple million dollars below your anticipated health insurance costs that you are able to realize them back as savings to reinvest in county government as opposed to basically turning over those savings to a health insurance carrier.

    Martin says Lancaster is facing a 11 percent increase in health benefit costs in 2010.

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