In an effort to save money and reduce time-consuming administrative hassles, Beaufort County leaders are considering dropping the county’s current workers’ compensation insurance provider.
The S.C. Counties Workers' Compensation Trust, which provides Beaufort County and 41 other counties with coverage, may be too costly for the level of service it provides, county leaders say.
“We are testing the market to see what other services may be out there,” deputy county administrator Josh Gruber told the Beaufort County Council’s Executive Committee last week. “...We need to make sure the premiums we are paying are appropriate.”
The county pays about $2.5 million annually in premiums. However, just after administration staff began researching alternative providers, the cost was slashed by about $600,000, he said.
“It might be entirely circumstantial that the discount came at the same time that we are searching for alternative services, but the discount came nonetheless,” Gruber said.
In addition to concerns about the price of coverage, county officials have bemoaned a policy of the trust that requires all vendors, no matter how large or small, to provide certificates of workers’ compensation coverage before doing business with the county.
“Even if they are a sole proprietor” who sells the county a single “$50 widget,” the vendor must be insured despite the fact that “under the laws of South Carolina, any business with fewer than five employees is not required to provide (workers’ compensation) coverage,” Gruber said.
“There are a lot of certificates that we have to get over the course of a year,” which creates “a very large, time-consuming burden” for administration staff, he said.
County Councilman Jerry Stewart called the trust’s policy on requiring insurance for all vendors “ridiculous.”
County leaders also say their current provider may not be contesting claims that competitors would be likely to fight.
“They just roll over” rather than contest claims, Stewart said.
Gruber agreed, saying county administration is concerned about the “number and types of claims that are going through.”
Administration staff plan to continue researching alternative providers and bring their findings before County Council in the coming months.
If the county ultimately opts to leave the workers’ compensation trust, it wouldn’t be the first time leaders chose to bail on an insurance provider in search of a better deal.
The council voted in April to stop using Blue Cross Blue Shield of South Carolina for employee health insurance. Instead, the county opted to self-insure and pay employee claims itself.
County officials expect that move to save taxpayers about $700,000 annually.