Are County Commissioners using tax-funded benefits as a personal charity?

Feb 22, 2019 at 08:00 am by Tess2019

Rutherford County Government

At the Feb. 4 Steering, Legislative and Governmental Committee meeting, Rutherford County Commissioners voted to give themselves the right to "buy-in" to the county employee health insurance.

When I called Commissioner Craig Harris (District 15) and asked what his rationale was for making this request, his answer was that it wouldn't "cost the county anything." He said he was backed up by the Risk Manager and Cigna.

As an employee benefits consultant and auditor, I have a license that would not allow me to condone commissioners participating in this plan for the following reasons:

  1. Commissioners are not full-time employees. Mr. Harris said he has his own career and business. But he wanted me to sympathize with all the time he was having to spend right now, away from his family while in California and Las Vegas visiting garbage processing facilities. So, I reminded him that he ran in an election to win this position, and he's being paid for it, so he knew what he was volunteering for.
  2. The county employees own the funds in this plan. Seems like they should be the ones who decide on this. In fact, any unspent funds at the end of the year should either be given back to the participants or benefits increased.
  3. I explained "adverse selection" to Mr. Harris. Because he owns his own business and his time is governed by his business, not the county, he doesn't have the same risk factors that real, W2 employees have. He could be exposed to greater risks as a result of his own business, but the taxpayers would have to foot the bill for it.

Mr. Harris argued that the taxpayers don't pay for the benefits. He doesn't seem to understand that we are the defacto payer and that he is a public servant.

Mr. Harris added premiums would come out of his own pocket and wouldn't affect the other premiums. If that were the whole truth, I would have no complaint. The truth is, it's not about the premiums. It's about the claims.

No one on the commission nor HR Director Sonia Stephenson is licensed to speak about this business. So when she said she "surveyed" other states and found "nothing that would prohibit the County from implementing this benefit and COBRA would also be available," she is speaking out of turn, but because she doesn't have a license, she cannot be sued for giving out this kind of advice. What prohibits this kind of thing from happening in the private sector? BAD MANAGEMENT. I could be sued for giving this same advice.

Why is it that Mr. Harris and other commissioners want to participate so badly instead of doing what the rest of us taxpayers have to do: pay our own way PLUS pay for the county benefits?

Commissioner Harris is not a licensed insurance professional, so he thinks I "just don't care" about the Commissioners enough to allow this abuse to happen. What I care about is my community and my profession. I pay for my own insurance and I pay for my license and all the education requirements that I am forced to pay for in order to keep it.

Employee benefits are not cheap, and one of the complaints at the County is that the retirees cannot afford COBRA premiums. Mr. Harris was told there is so much money in the fund and so few claims that it "wouldn't hurt" for him and the other commissioners to participate.

Last time I checked (2014) the total amount per employee is $1,000/month. Part of that is paid for by the employer (taxpayers). So, I don't know who Mr. Harris is getting his information from, but it's not someone who understands the subject. He said it was the County Attorney Josh McCreary and Cigna. Mr.

McCreary is not a licensed employee benefits consultant, and Cigna doesn't have a dog in the hunt, all they do is cut the checks. I was not included in the conversation, so I don't know how Cigna answered the question, or what question was asked.

A minor audit of the prescription claims, back in 2014, showed a 50 percent over charge. The total amount would be about $1,000 per county resident for a year, which goes a long way toward paying for private insurance.

In 2012, the State Comptroller audited Rutherford County Employee Benefits plan and found that someone who was not eligible had used $15,000 in benefits. A boyfriend of an employee was allowed to participate, and when I asked Lisa Nolen in an Audit Committee meeting why Cigna had not caught this, she smiled and said, "Oh, no, that was us, we allowed it because his children needed insurance."

My private insurance is not cheap, but I bite the bullet and pay for it, and it doesn't sit well with this taxpayer to think County Commissioners feel they should be able to break the insurance principles and rules and get special dispensation….at the taxpayers' expense.

It's just my opinion but, I think y'all should stop looking for ways to enrich yourselves at the taxpayers' expense and do something that shows some integrity and concern for the taxpayers.

Government is not a giant charity.  

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The Commission voted almost unanimously to allow Commissioners to "buy-in" to the taxpayer-funded benefits plan. You may wonder why when it's over-priced and badly managed? Because you have a pre-existing condition and because this is a group plan, there's virtually no underwriting!!! So, the taxpayers are now going to fund our SICK Commissioners and anyone else they want to give the charity to. I suggest everyone call their Commissioners and let them know how you feel about this. It is a perfect example of how elected public servants enrich themselves within their little cabal that we pay for.
I'm wondering why they wouldn't give ALL part-time employees the SAME option - then it would not be so egregious. They should extend this to all that have the "same" parameters or they should rescind this perk...
That is a very, very reasonable question and expectation. Even more relevant in light of the fact that part-time employees are actually EMPLOYEES!! The Commissioners are NOT, and the commissioners actually have other jobs/careers or are retired from the same! This is a horrific abuse of power and violation of the public trust. The money in the employee benefits has accumulated out of the paychecks of the full time employees and now the greedy commissioners want to get their hands on it, same as Social Security and Medicare. We need to vote the entire Commission OUT.
My notes taken at the Commission Meeting reflect that there were 12 yes on the original motion and 7 no’s. Those against were commissioners Carol Cook, Steve Pearcy, Joe Frank Jernigan, Mike Kusch, Pettus Reed, Joe Gourley and Rhonda Allen. Virgil Gammon abstained. Some commissioners do understand that this could have very negative implications. It’s my understanding that before this came to the Feb. Steering Committee that the Risk Management (Insurance) Committee in January advised that any recommendation should wait until the RM director could bring more information back to the next meeting in late Feb. Even though Risk Management is purely advisory, they still are tasked with reviewing the plan changes to allow commissioners, road board and school board members to buy in. Hopefully, all commissioners will pay attention to that meeting. I’ve seen the Commission rescind votes in the past after they had ALL the information pertinent to an issue. On a side note: the RM director has been replaced since that January meeting, though I have no knowledge of the circumstances.
Commissioner Harris does not know what he's talking about. This fund was built by full time W2 employees of the County. Now Harris wants to re write the plan documents to allow himself and his buddies (who could be very, very sick people) to hop on and raid the fund after a 3-month wait and no pre-existing condition limitations. You can't take a pot of honey, put poison in it, and expect it to remain pure honey. It would be poison.
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