Despite cost increases, Beaufort County to stay with Blue Cross Blue Shield

zmurdock@beaufortgazette.comApril 15, 2014 

Beaufort County will stick with Blue Cross Blue Shield of South Carolina for at least another year, despite nearly $2 million in additional health insurance costs, according to county leaders.

In recent weeks, officials have considered a switch to Cigna to lessen the blow of those cost increases. Cigna, however, will not provide the same coverage, county administrator Gary Kubic concluded.

A cost increase is inevitable anyway, he added. The county currently pays almost $10.8 million in health insurance costs each year, and costs will go up to about $12.5 million with either provider, Kubic said.

For essentially the same price -- Cigna would cost only about $43,000 less than Blue Cross -- the county could get less coverage under Cigna, he said.

The company is considering dropping Tenet Healthcare Corp., which owns Hilton Head Hospital and other facilities in Beaufort and Jasper counties, from its network of providers, Kubic said.

"That means all individuals who use Hilton Head Hospital would be out-of-network," Kubic said. "Based on that change, I'm recommending we stick with Blue Cross Blue Shield."

On Monday, County Council unanimously authorized Kubic to renew the county's contract with Blue Cross Blue Shield.

The company provides primary health coverage to more than 1,100 county employees.

The plans the county renews will remain largely the same, according to county health insurance consultant Carla Hartsoe.

However, out-of-pocket costs will rise because Blue Cross is trying to offset a provision in the Affordable Care Act that deductibles and copayments count toward the policyholder's maximum out-of-pocket costs, Hartsoe said.

The new plans take effect in July and will be renewed for one year, Kubic said. After that, the county may decide to solicit bids for the contract as a way to look at other options, he added.

"Cigna knows that if they comply with an open and competitive process, we would give them consideration again next year," Kubic said.

Follow reporter Zach Murdock at twitter.com/IPBG_Zach.

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