After delays, Clayton BOC passes employee benefits package

Clayton County Human Resources Director Pamela Ambles presents the new employee benefits package to the Board of Commissioners.

JONESBORO — After having sent staff back to the drawing board to review benefit proposals for more than 2,600 Clayton County employees, the Board of Commissioners adopted a new package for fiscal year 2020 on July 2.

Human Resources Director Pamela Ambles had repeatedly come before the BOC to present a package she said reflected the desires of county employees. Ambles recommended that Blue Cross Blue Shield replace Aetna as the county’s health insurance provider, while keeping Kaiser as the county’s HMO option “despite a 6.95 percent increase” because county employees like it.

Kaiser has been the county’s HMO carrier for 30 years, she said.

“We appreciate the business that Aetna has done with the county,” Ambles told the board, “but the focus is trying to make sure that we’re offering the best benefit that we possibly can to the employees.”

Commissioners wanted to know whether Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield would leave county employees stranded at the hospital door, based on news reports last year that Blue Cross customers were forced to pay higher out-of-network costs if their doctors were with Piedmont Hospital.

In April 2018, then-Gov. Nathan Deal negotiated an agreement between the parties that put Piedmont patients back in BCBS’ network.

“I think it is so important that you let the data speak for itself,” Ambles said, adding that Human Resources is trying to give employees a range of coverage options and had secured a three-year rate freeze on pharmacy rebates. In addition, Ambles said, BCBS has a bigger network, which she said keeps costs down.

“Can we pull the package?” asked Commissioner Gail Hambrick. “Because there are some parts I agree with and some parts I don’t, and I don’t want to vote yea or nay, which might be detrimental to something else.”

“Can we do it in executive session?” asked Commissioner Felicia Franklin Warner. “Since it’s dealing with personnel, a personnel matter?” Warner added that she wanted to be “very careful” even with the example Ambles had mentioned in passing about a Parks and Rec employee.

County Attorney Chuck Reed said executive sessions were to discuss “a specific individual,” not a general circumstance. “County business must be conducted in public.”

Commissioner Sonna Singleton Gregory concurred. “I had questions too about some items,” she told Ambles, “but you mentioned a deadline?”

The problem, Ambles said, is that the county is switching to a new computer system, MUNIS, that requires a lot of behind-the-scenes preparation — especially for setting up payroll — and that delaying the vote could impact that work.

“We are in transition to MUNIS for benefits administration for October enrollment,” Ambles explained. “There’s a lot going on in the background tied to payroll. I went on MinuteTrack to come before the board. I have pulled the data and I will present it at the first meeting in August. It shows Clayton County is very competitive.”

“Moving forward with whoever our carrier is, we will be having quarterly data utilization meetings, so we can be looking at this data more closely and making decisions based on the data and what the employees need,” Ambles said.

Hambrick expressed concerns about BCBS’ relationship with Piedmont. “I think we really need to check because for the state to do that... It was all in the news regarding them and Piedmont and folks were in the hospital, couldn’t get dismissed or couldn’t get admitted and all that, so I just want us to really think on that.”

Ambles invited James Ford of Epic to address the issue, which he said had been resolved. “Typically, carriers go through that every three to five years,” Ford said.

Ambles said she was “data-driven” and had no problem making changes should any of her recommendations not work out.

“So again, I appreciate your work,” Gregory told Ambles. “To my colleagues, I’m fine with voting on it as a packet. Because as you said, I don’t want to hold up any time crunch that we’ve got to get into....While I’m not happy with the increase, we are where we are.”

She added, “I feel like we hired you and we tasked you, and we’ve gotta have a little — I’m going to have confidence in your recommendation.”

The board voted 4-0-1 to pass the benefits package, with Warner abstaining.

Ambles thanked the board, adding, “We’re gonna hold their feet to the fire. You just wait and see.”

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