CAROLINA BEACH — As budget season draws to a close, Carolina Beach is wrangling with two issues, recruiting and retaining employees, and trimming spending. The town’s manager recently put forward a proposal to help do both, but New Hanover County isn’t comfortable with the risk.
According to Town Manager Lucky Narain, Carolina Beach is “requesting that [New Hanover County] consider a three-year pilot program with the Town to pool health insurance.”
Narain said the “general cost savings would help our employees cover the cost of health insurance for their families.” He added that matching the benefits of the county’s health insurance — which is significantly more comprehensive — would be financially challenging for the town.
“The bottom line is that we are looking for innovative solutions and a strong partnership with the county to lessen the impact of high health insurance costs,” Narain said.
Pooling insurance wouldn’t just save money, Narain said, it would also help the town recruit new employees competitively — particularly for the town’s police department, which recently lost a number of officers to the New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office.
Mayor Joe Benson said the bottom line was “a benefits package which cannot compete with other towns or the County puts Carolina Beach at a disadvantage.”
Benson noted that “on-boarding [Carolina Beach Police Department] officers and retaining these experienced and highly trained professionals has historically been an issue. One need only look at the past 18-24 months as proof. When poor retention is linked to salary and benefits, then we, as town leadership, have a responsibility to find creative ways to pursue options intended to reduce health care costs to an officer and his family.”
Benson said Carolina Beach recently addressed police pay for the upcoming fiscal year during town council’s winter budget retreat, adding that Narain’s leadership in “exploring ways to reduce costs to not only the CBPD but for all Town employees is an admirable quest.”
Narain’s suggestion was to evaluate the results of pooling insurance programs after a three-year trial, New Hanover County has decided against it.
New Hanover County concerned about ‘risk’
According to Tim Buckland, intergovernmental affairs coordinator for the county confirmed that the county did receive an “informal request from the town of Carolina Beach regarding pooled health insurance” for a trial period. Buckland said the county chose not to participate in a pooling program to avoid putting the county’s medical plan at risk.
“The county has a self-funded medical plan to provide comprehensive coverage to employees and their families. To mitigate claims even with continuing healthcare costs, the county has undertaken a number of steps, including an in-house clinic, wellness programs and a voluntary rate incentive program requiring employees and spouses to conduct annual health-risk assessments. Because of this, the county will not accept the risk of integrating another organization into our plan,” Buckland said.
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