Health Costs Level Off for County Staff

Times Staff Writer

After years of double-digit increases, healthcare costs for Ventura County government employees are leveling off, an official told the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday.

The county will pay an estimated $35.7 million to insure 5,600 employees in 2006, about the same as this year, said Barry Zimmerman, deputy executive officer for benefits.

He said stabilized prescription drug costs were the main reason the county received favorable rates for 2006.

But other factors played a role, including a relatively healthy county workforce, a county-run insurance plan that has proved both popular and cost-effective, and a national slowing in rate increases.

Supervisors praised staff members for negotiating contracts that they said offered high-quality plans at an attractive price. Employees will continue to pay relatively low co-payments while receiving excellent care, said board Chairwoman Kathy Long.


“The challenges with healthcare are national,” Long told Zimmerman. “Good work on containing costs.”

“I think we should enjoy one of the rare times we don’t have double-digit increases,” added Supervisor Steve Bennett.

Although the rate of increase is slowing, medical costs have continued to soar. Employee health benefits in California cost, on average, $3,685 for a single person and $10,013 for family coverage in 2004, a recent UCLA study found.

Analysts predict that the national cost of medical insurance to employers is expected to rise 12.6% on average in 2006, almost five times faster than inflation.

Mirroring national trends, county healthcare rates also have risen dramatically since 2000.

Costs increased 39% in 2003, 9% in 2004 and 17% for the current year, according to figures supplied by Zimmerman.

The county offers a choice of three medical plans. Two are health maintenance organization-style packages and the third is a preferred provider organization.

The Ventura County Health Care Plan, a package operated by the county’s Health Care Agency, offers the lowest rates, $211.31 biweekly, and is the choice of 3,000 employees.

Another 2,300 workers are enrolled in Pacificare’s HMO or PPO options, with biweekly rates of $326.23 and $592.48 respectively.

An additional 1,150 employees receive $143.31 biweekly for opting out of county healthcare coverage, usually because they are covered through a spouse’s plan.

Sheriff’s deputies and county firefighters do not participate in county-sponsored plans. The county pays them a monthly cash subsidy that can be applied to medical plans offered by their individual unions, Zimmerman said.