PASCO — Franklin County's medical insurance provider is going bust.
County commissioners were told Monday that the Washington Counties Insurance Pool would dissolve before Jan. 1 because of financial difficulties.
That means the county must find an alternative for medical insurance for its 240 employees before the end of the year.
The self-insured pool is dissolving after three years in which the amount of claims was higher than the premiums paid that year.
The pool is expected to spend $6 million more on claims this year than its members paid as premiums, said Rosie Rumsey, county human resources director. The pool also spent $2 million more than it received in 2008 and 2009.
The county could go with Washington Counties Insurance Fund, which is part of the same organization but is a group plan offered through Premera Blue Cross instead of a self-insured pool, she said.
If the county goes with the fund, however, rates will be 5.7 percent higher in 2011 than the 24 percent increase that was already anticipated for 2011 with the pool, Rumsey said.
Benton County is part of the Washington Counties Insurance Fund, which is separate from the pool, said Benton County Administrator David Sparks, so it won't be affected by the dissolving pool.
Mike Shelton, Washington Counties Insurance pool and fund executive director, said the pool increased rates by about 18 percent in 2010 but still will have a greater loss than previous years.
The pool anticipates that its $5.1 million in reserves will cover outstanding claims for the rest of the year, Shelton said. About 9,600 people are insured through the pool.
If that amount isn't enough for outstanding claims, members of the pool will be assessed for the remaining cost, Rumsey said.
Sandy Schroeder, a clerk at the county jail, said she is concerned what employees might be asked to pay if the remaining claims are more than the reserves.
She and about eight other county employees attended the commissioners meeting Monday after learning about it Friday.
Previously, the county had some medical plans where employees didn't pay out of pocket for their premiums, Schroeder said. But for 2010, none of the options had premiums that were fully covered by the county.
And the amount employees are responsible for paying has continued to increase, she said.
Rumsey said if the county goes with the fund, employees can waive service if they find a plan themselves, and not just if they have one through a spouse, the state or veterans affairs.
The commissioners did not make a decision on medical insurance.
If the county goes with an option other than Washington Counties Insurance Fund for 2011, Commission Chairman Brad Peck said it would need to go to bid and make a decision in two weeks.
He said the county could go with the fund for 2011 and then take the year to search for another option.
The county also could decide to give employees a stipend for them to secure their own insurance, Peck said.