QUEENSBURY -- Warren County leaders have been able to whittle down a projected 16 percent increase in the cost of health insurance, thanks to a change in carriers and some help from the federal government.

The county looked into cost-saving measures after learning earlier this year that the insurance carrier with which it contracts for insurance for county workers, Capital District Physicians Health Plan, had notified the county its coverage would cost 15.6 percent more in 2011.

County Administrator/Attorney Paul Dusek said the proposed increase prompted the county and its insurance agent, Capital Financial Group, to shop around.

They found that a comparable plan with Blue Shield of Northeastern New York was about $300,000 cheaper than the CDPHP plan, Dusek said.

The Blue Shield coverage is still about 9.5 percent ($540,000) higher than the plan the county used this year, Dusek said.

But the county also recently learned it has qualified for a federal grant to help offset health insurance cost increases. The county expects to receive $422,000 over the next two years, Dusek said.

The federal grants are available to help defray insurance costs for employers with more than 160 workers, Dusek said.

Capital Financial learned of the program and successfully sought the money on the county's behalf, Dusek said. He said county employees will be forced to pick up some of the increase in costs of the new health plan, but will also benefit from improvements in some coverage areas.

"The bargaining units we discussed this with were receptive to the change. It worked out well," said Fred Monroe, the Chester supervisor who is chairman of the county Board of Supervisors.

Jon Premo, labor relations specialist for the Civil Service Employees Association, which represents the majority of county workers, called the switch a "no-brainer."

"Even though the recent times have been very upsetting for the employees of the county, their unions are happy (as they are) to participate in common sense solutions to county challenges," Premo said.

He said he had concerns about the experience Washington County had with Blue Shield of Northeastern New York, where the provider bid low to win the county's work, then dramatically raised rates the next year.

The good news in Warren County came the same day that supervisors in neighboring Essex County learned that health insurance coverage for Essex County workers could cost up to 46 percent more, according to an article in the Press-Republican newspaper of Plattsburgh.


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