ALFRED — York County government ”“ and employees who pay a portion of their health insurance premiums ”“ will see a 12.54 percent increase in costs next year.

And while increases happen most years with companies and governments that offer health insurance to their employees, county government officials say the sting could have cost a bit less.

Union officials, however, say a proposed new policy that would have cost both them and the county a bit less money, appeared to also offer less coverage. They’re happy with the current company, Harvard Pilgrim, they say, but are open to exploring possibilities next time around.

County Manager Greg Zinser told county commissioners at a recent meeting that the difference between the increase from Aetna to Harvard Pilgrim is $34,000; the Harvard Pilgrim contract will cost the county 12.54 percent, or $173,000, more next year than this year. The county health insurance bill is more than $1 million annually.

Zinser said the only difference he saw between the two policies is that the less expensive one would not have provided coverage for acupuncture.

Union officials however, said the language of the Aetna proposal left a number of questions about coverage ”“ like the cost of co-pays for emergency care, ambulance services, allergy treatments and testing. Workers said they noted a loss in coverage for services like autism spectrum testing and treatment, some aspects of dental coverage, weight loss, hearing aids and eyeglasses.

Zinser put the insurance out to bid, and initially presented the unions with a memo announcing Aetna as the new carrier. Some of the union contracts, however, specify that Harvard Pilgrim is to be the carrier. Zinser said he acknowledged the mistake, but pointed to the lower cost of the Aetna plan, for what he said is essentially the same coverage.

Rachel Sherman, president of the Maine State Employees Association local, which represents county clerical and custodial staff, said she and other union officials examined the coverage provided by both carriers in the short timeframe provided, and say Aetna came up short. In a letter to Zinser, National Correctional Employees Union local President Colton Sweeney, County Patrol Association President Matt Nadeau and Sherman said they believe the bidding process initiated by Zinser did lessen the premium increase initially offered by Harvard Pilgrim.

Zinser executed the Harvard Pilgrim contract, but told commissioners he believes the coverage offered by the two companies was essentially the same.

“It’s baffling,” said Commissioner Gary Sinden, who asked if all union employees had been made aware of the lower-cost option. “It’s beyond me, but we’ll press forward.”

Zinser said he sees the rejection of the alternate insurance carrier as a trust issue, and said he hopes that will change going forward.

Sherman, Sweeney and Nadeau said in the letter that they believe reconvening the county’s insurance committee process would result in the best plans and rates for all county employees.

— Senior Staff Writer Tammy Wells can be contacted at 324-4444 (local call in Sanford) or 282-1535, ext. 327 or [email protected]

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