Winnebago county courthouse

Winnebago County Courthouse in Forest City.

FOREST CITY — The Winnebago County Board of Supervisors last week voted 2-1 to renew its contract with Two Rivers, which administers the health insurance plan for county employees. 

"I'm really, truly miffed that we are going with Two Rivers," said Supervisor Mike Stensrud, who cast the lone dissenting vote.

He said the county has been overpaying on insurance premiums for the past five years. 

"That is your opinion that we have been overpaying," said Supervisor Terry Durby, noting he believes the fees charged by Two Rivers are justified.

Under this year's contract, the county's insurance costs are going up eight percent. Durby said there are no other significant changes.

The county's insurance plan is under the Iowa Governmental Health Care Plan, a trust with other counties, school districts and cities who receive insurance coverage through Wellmark.

In 2014 the Iowa Insurance Division began investigating allegations that Two Rivers was overcharging IGHCP clients for administrative fees and not fully disclosing those fees.

Two Rivers representative Denise Ballard told the Winnebago supervisors last week the investigation is nearly over, and at that time all the information will be released to the public. 

"We at no time felt that we were deceptive," she said. 

Ballard admitted that when the IGHCP was formed in 2005, the commission Two Rivers built into the Wellmark premium was not disclosed. 

"But at that time disclosure wasn't a thing in the insurance industry," Ballard said.

When reforms began, Two Rivers went to Wellmark and asked how to disclose on IGHCP because Two Rivers wasn't receiving any commissions from Wellmark.

She said Wellmark told her IGHCP was excluded because the only one getting a commission on the trust was the Two Rivers general agent.

Winnebago County was actually paying less before disclosure, according to Ballard.

Under the old system, each county was charged a fee that was a percentage of the premium, which meant each one paid a different fee as premiums were all different, she said. 

Today Two Rivers is charging a consulting fee of $10 for single insurance coverage plans and $25 for family plans. 

Ballard said before disclosure those fees could have been lowered if Two Rivers was trying to get a new county to join the IGHCP and the competition was charging less. 

When Stensrud asked if Two Rivers receives a fee from Wellmark, Ballard replied, "not one cent comes from Wellmark to us." She said this is stated in the contract with the county.

Stensrud said it "boggles my mind" that the other supervisors didn't want to delay their vote on the contract, especially since Hubbard told them she had alternate plans they could look at if they wanted.

Supervisor Bill Jensvold said the county has not done the research to see if there is anything else out there that is as reasonably priced.

Two Rivers begins sending out its financial packets at the end of this month, with enrollment taking place in May.

Stensrud said he still thinks "there is misinformation out there," but maybe the best thing to do is to let those handling the investigation into Two Rivers "ferret it out."

Durby said he doesn't think Two Rivers was hiding charges.

He also said the time to start researching other insurance plans or looking into starting a self-funded plan was five or six months ago. 

Durby said other counties are self-insured, meaning they pay someone like Wellmark a fee to administer the plan. 

However, those counties are "taking all the risk," whereas in a trust like IGHCP, the risk is shared, according to Durby.

"We are always looking to save money for taxpayers and still provide good health care coverage for our employees and their families," he said. 

Stensrud said although he is disappointed the county is still with Two Rivers, he doesn't want to berate the other two supervisors for their decision.

Even if he doesn't agree with them, it is best to get behind it "and work to do the best you can for the county."


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