Council Concerned with Steep Rise in Health Insurance

Town Councilors expressed frustration with reports the Town’s health insurance rate could double this year.

Town Manager Kevin Smith reported the operating budget has increased by about $1 million, due primarily to an anticipated steep rise in the Town’s health insurance rate (see related story page 1).

Last week, representatives from Health Trust informed the Town that its guaranteed maximum rate is 15.5 percent, while the Town initially budgeted an increase to 7.5 percent.

The Council directed Smith to ask local elected officials to attend their budget workshop on Saturday, Nov. 14, at 8 a.m. to provide information about regulation of the rates.

Councilor Tom Freda also called for representatives from Health Trust to attend the budget workshop.

“These people should be brought here to explain why they need a 15 percent increase,” he said, adding, “If the government is supposed to regulate anti-trust, what better place to do it than here? They get involved in cell phones, and it’s not law you have to have a cell phone. This is the law. They have a command, an enforceable way, and they allow a 15 percent increase? If I have to buy health insurance because I will get fined by the government if I don’t, they should make it affordable.”

“New Hampshire is not in a good predicament because there are a very limited number of carriers,” Smith said. “The costs are going up so much because there’s no competition.”

Smith was scheduled to meet with representatives from Health Trust on Nov. 3 to review the drivers of the increase in health care costs, and the national trend toward rising health care costs.

Chairman John Farrell suggested the Town initiate a dialogue with other communities to consider consolidating health care coverage.

“We can’t just continue to watch costs go up,” he said.

Smith said the rates in neighboring communities have seen an increase as low as 7.5 percent and as high as 20 percent.

Despite the operating budget increase, Smith said an uptick in revenues and increase in total valuation will help offset the tax rate.

The Town’s proposed budget should be available by the end of the week.

Smith reported the Town’s annual audit recently wrapped up, and Finance Director Doug Smith has completed his work with Town department heads reviewing line items and analyzing historical trends.

“There have been a lot of lines moved around based on historical trends,” Smith said, noting he  plans to recommend directing funds from specific areas, based on their analysis of such trends.

“Even with the rather dramatic increases in cost, I would still hope we could set as a goal in the end that we could offer again another tax reduction,” Councilor Tom Dolan said.

In other business at Monday night’s meeting:

• The Town Council waived a first reading for both an amendment to the Municipal Code related to ambulance fees and collection, and a resolution discontinuing a resolution establishing an Ambulance Hardship Abatement Committee.

The purpose of the amendment is to bring the Town’s billing rates for ambulance services in line with current rates, according to Fire Chief Darren O’Brien.

“This is the cleanest way to do that,” he said.

The resolution to dissolve the resolution to establish an Ambulance Abatement Committee will place responsibility for arbitrating abatement requests with the Finance and Administration Department.

A public hearing on the amendment and resolution were scheduled for the Council’s Nov. 16 meeting.

• The Council approved with a 3-0 vote the expenditure of $4,785 from the Expendable Maintenance Trust Fund. Councilors Joe Green and Jim Butler were not present for the vote due to conflicting work obligations.

The money will be used to convert areas in the Town Hall to LED light bulbs, and to replace tile flooring at South Fire Station.

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