County moving forward to evaluate $15 million health benefits, exposure

INDIAN RIVER COUNTY – County commissioners have authorized staff to negotiate with a health insurance consultant to find ways to trim the county’s $15 million health-related expenses.

“It’s a huge expenditure,” County Administrator Joe Baird told commissioners at a recent board meeting. Commissioners voted 4-1 to proceed with negotiations with one firm, the Gehring Group, to determine what it would cost to have the company review from top to bottom the county’s health benefits and exposure.

“We are going to look at everything,” Baird said of what the county offers employees in terms of health benefits. He added that with the passage of the federal health care bill, the county would be reviewing that as well.

“I think it’s perfect timing,” he said.

Commissioner Joe Flescher voted against the measure, telling commissioners he would rather the staff send out a request for proposals that would include pricing. He took issue with two of the four ranked firms including prices in their application to the county.

Baird and Human Resources Director Jim Sexton both explained that the request for qualifications the county sent out did not request information related to pricing and that it was up to the applicants if they wanted to include that information.

Baird told commissioners that the request for qualifications from health insurance consultants was a better option for the county because it allowed the committee to see what types of services each firm could provide without being locked into choosing the firm with the lowest bid.

“We have the ability to move the moving parts,” he said.

Gehring Group can provide online open-enrollment and employee benefit handbooks, along with topical newsletters.

Sexton told commissioners that the selection committee, of which he is a member, selected Gehring Group because of its “excellent reputation” in the marketplace.

He also said the company has extensive experience with public sector health insurance and brokerage.

Commissioner Gary Wheeler suggested to his fellow board members that they should uphold staff’s recommendation to move forward with Gehring Group.

“I believe staff has done a good job on this,” the commissioner said, explaining that he did not see anything that made him believe that the committee made the selection in an unprofessional manner.

“We have tried to take politics out of this and have staff make a recommendation,” Wheeler said.

While the commissioners supported Wheeler’s motion to authorize staff to negotiate with Gehring Group, Commission Chair Peter O’Bryan questioned the ranking system the committee used.

O’Bryan pointed out that one firm received 25 points for being local – having an office located in Indian River County – while the other firms received fewer points under the same category.

“I think there’s a lot of inconsistency for a question that should be a yes or no,” O’Bryan said.

He also expressed concern that one of the four committee members ranked all four firms a perfect score – with the local company receiving extra points.

“To me, that defeats the whole purpose,” O’Bryan said of having an equal ranking of all the firms. “I find it hard to believe that you can find all four companies perfect in every aspect of qualifications.”

The selection committee is expected to work out a contract with Gehring Group before the April 13 Board of County Commissioners meeting. If the committee cannot come to terms with Gehring, they will move on to the second-ranked firm, The Crowne Group.

Baird told commissioners not to be surprised if the committee has to go through Gehring and Crowne to the third place applicant before arriving at a price the county can agree on.

The third place finisher was Willis of FL Inc., while Gallagher Benefit Services placed fourth.

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