By Hailey Persinger

Killeen Daily Herald

As a vote on health care legislation looms in Washington, D.C., city of Killeen officials learned Friday how approval of the overhaul could clash with insurance plans for the city's 1,200 employees.

To avoid another health care-driven outcry like last fall's, which came after a 27 percent spike in premiums, the Killeen city employee insurance committee began considering its options in late February. But whatever the city chooses – traditional health care, an insurance co-operative among several cities or self-funded coverage – Terry Hale, insurance counselor for the City-County Benefits Service, said what happens on Capitol Hill will dictate the ultimate outcome.

Big-name insurance companies like Aetna and Blue Cross are backing away when municipalities request coverage proposals, a trend that looks likely to continue until "things pan out in Washington," he said.

Despite the expectation that a vote on federal health care reform will come down by today in the House, the city's insurance committee continued its search for a viable small-scale option.

Until Friday, committee members only mentioned the concept of a health care co-op among Killeen and cities like Temple or Copperas Cove.

But City Manager Connie Green told committee members that with Temple ready to move out on its own plan and not much time to orchestrate a partnership, such an agreement may have to wait until 2011.

"I don't think we at this point are ready to move out on a plan," he said. "I'm not exactly sure if we'll get them a co-op this year but next it's a very real opportunity."

Quadrupling costs

Even if the council follows through with a co-op, or even traditional insurance, Hale told the committee that it should always expect a rise in costs.

Health care does not stagnate or drop in value, he said.

Rising premiums compel employees to sign on to the lowest-costing plan, creating an unbalanced number of people on low-end plans with those on middle-of-the-road or high-cost plans.

"Killeen is in stages of what this perfect storm is," Hale said. "You're on the cusp of that being a flip and you're looking at a huge, huge potential increase."

Insurance companies expect such increases to hit more entities than municipalities like Killeen.

According to Thursday's presentation, the overall cost of health care is slated to almost quadruple throughout the next five years.

That means a $1,430 per-month, per-employee cost to the city in 2015. With the city insuring about 970 of its 1,200 employees, total yearly costs with no changes in benefits or enrollment could surpass $16 million.

While the city will not dodge those costs altogether, monthly committee meetings leading up to a May proposal for an intended route to insurance will continue.

The committee will discuss traditional insurance during its April meeting.

Contact Hailey Persinger or (254) 501-7568. Follow her on Twitter at KDHcity.

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