County-wide health consortium announced

ALBANY COUNTY — Another portion of Albany County’s shared-services plan is being readied to roll out. A county-wide health consortium was announced by Albany County Executive Dan McCoy’s office last week. The county is predicting $3 million in savings annually.

The shared-services plan, required by the state, was developed last fall, and includes initiatives such as the health consortium, as well as equipment-sharing programs, shared employees, and equipment-sharing programs.

A release by the county states that the consortium will allow cities, towns, and villages to increase their buying power by seeking health insurance as one group.

“ … Municipal employees will ultimately see their premiums and deductibles go down while maintaining the quality of their benefits that they currently have,” the release states.

Michael McLaughlin, director of policy and research for the county, said that, while it is too early to say when municipalities would be able to join such a consortium, he added in an emailed statement to The Enterprise that it would be as soon as possible.

Last September, all municipalities agreed to opt-in to the consortium except the Village of Ravena; and the school districts of Bethlehem, Guilderland, Menands, and Ravena-Coeymans-Selkirk; the three districts, excluding Menands, are members of the Capital Area Schools Health Insurance Consortium, according to the county plan.

McLaughlin said that the consortium would offer the greatest benefit to smaller municipalities that can take advantage of what is offered to larger municipalities.

“While the savings for those smaller municipalities will likely be more significant, this does not mean the larger municipalities won’t save either,” he wrote.

All existing benefit plans for municipal employees would be maintained as they are now, he said.

The county said in a release that many municipalities are seeing a spike in insurance and benefits costs. A recent report on the county’s fiscal condition by Albany County Comptroller Michael Conners notes that the consortium could remedy the county and help smaller municipalities. He notes that health-insurance costs grew from $34.5 million in 2011 to $52.5 million in 2017; and employee benefits grew from $42.6 million in 2011 to $65.2 million in 2017.

The consortium is the second initiative to be announced as part of an eight-part plan the county developed under a mandate from the governor’s office to cut down on municipal costs by sharing services. The county also announced an equipment-sharing database earlier this month that is estimated by the county to possibly save around $525,000 annually.

Despite some wariness by town leaders of sharing services, municipal leaders from throughout the county voted in favor of the plan in September of last year. McCoy had said at the time that a county-wide consortium couldn’t be created until certain state laws were changed to allow for better rates and a more streamlined process.

The initial plan at that time noted state legislation was not clear on whether insurance consortia could cover municipalities with under 50 employees at an experience-based rate rather than community-based. McLaughlin said in an email Wednesday that the state’s Department of Financial Services did clarify that such municipalities could be covered at an experienced-based rate.

A state insurance law also does not allow public-sector consortia to refund commissions to municipalities and school districts that are part of the group, increasing insurance costs. McLaughlin said that this has not been specifically addressed yet.

“However, DFS sounds committed to removing all obstacles to the creation of public-sector insurance consortiums and this type of issue is not likely to come up until later in the process,” he wrote.

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