QUINCY — The city of Quincy’s health insurance plan was slammed by many employees during a two-hour long meeting Wednesday night, with many taking aim at the city’s insurance consultant.
Complexities in the insurance system caused what relevant experts the city had available to be in constant rotation to the microphone. As Alderman Jeff Bergman, R-2, pointed out near the end of the meeting, onlookers had five more questions for every one answered by the consultant, Jim Baxter, who was unable to satisfy the council’s questions about the issues. Employees of the city repeatedly stated that Baxter was not answering their questions.
Some members, such as Alderman Mike Farha R-4, accused Baxter of purposefully talking around issues.
After reading an email wherein Baxter said the city should end their plan with him if the city couldn’t, after fact finding, appreciate that he allegedly saved them $1 million dollars in recent months, Police Benevolent and Protective Association Unit 12 President Robert MeGee stood to the side of the microphone and spoke to Baxter on behalf of his police clients.
“What I will tell you Mr. Baxter is that, as a person who is elected by the police department to represent them, and a person that represents the vast majority of the employees of the city of Quincy, we don’t want your program,” MeGee said. “We don’t want you in the city of Quincy.”
City employees past and present confronted the administration and Baxter with newly levied health care bills from as far back as 2021.
Baxter said the delayed charges were because of billing issues with Blue Cross Blue Shield and APL when the city switched to outside insurance providers, rather than self-insuring as it had done before Mayor Mike Troup’s administration. Although Baxter says that the billing issues were eventually resolved, there were old bills from the “tail end” of the correction process.
Troup decided to switch to “fully funded” because the city’s insurance fund ran at massive deficits from the 2017 fiscal year through the 2023 fiscal year, with the largest deficit hitting $675,230 or 25% of all health insurance expenses in 2017.
City Comptroller Sheri Ray said this was the result of the city lowering employee premium rates from the recommended 15% of health insurance cost. Subsequently, the city continued to keep premium rates the same up until 2018 despite increasing expenses, ignoring the advice of their fund manager, Blue Cross Blue Shield. By the 2020 fiscal year the city’s fund was totally gone, and the city had to loan the fund $840,000 the next year.
The reason that APL took issue with the account of the city and apparently canceled it was that the language of the plan did not match the verbal understanding between the city and APL that the plan had previously been operating on. After receiving ever-increasing inquiries from Quincy employees about provider bills resurfacing without claims service, Baxter said that APL probably got nervous and decided to stick to the letter of the policy.
Initially, the plan was for Quincy to pay employee claims below BCBS’ $7,000 deductibles down to a $1,000 dollar deductible. The difference between the two would be paid back to the city in a lump sum at the end of the APL policy.
However, in writing APL required employees to either have APL directly pay their balances down to the $1,000 deductible, or pay it themselves and then get reimbursed to the deductible. There was no room for the city to pay.
When pitched to the city by Baxter, the plan was appealing because of its similarity to the city’s previous self paid health care system. As the city’s insurance councilor, Baxter was blamed by proximity to the issue, but it remains unclear if Baxter, APL, or the city council are responsible for the miscommunication.
Because of the conflict, APL decided to cancel the plan. When informed that APL wanted to cancel, Baxter negotiated that APL send back all the city and employee premium payments from the duration of the plan due to not being able to fulfill its promises. APL agreed and paid back $674,000 of premiums, including $332,000 of money that never went to claims.
The council reached no resolution on how to spend the excess money, but Farha criticized Baxter for taking the decision to refund the money into his own hands and was suspicious of the money which Baxter said was, “on vacation” from its intended purpose. Councilmen questioned Baxter about whether or not he gained commission from the APL deal, but he denied it. Employees of the city wanted to know how the money might be used to reduce their premiums, but were told that the city, which pays the lions share of insurance premiums, would have to determine how to distribute the money fairly between the parties paying into premiums.
Baxter and Troup insisted that the check for the sum was sent directly to City Hall, but also had a Coalition employee address on it.
The three options given to the gather council were to keep the premium money and end the cities relationship with APL, buy a new short term policy from July 1 to Dec. 31, 2023, or reinstate the APL policy and run it until the end of 2023, which Baxter called, “flushing the money down the toilet.” The third option would require the city to recover the funds already used to cover employees increased deductibles during the lack of coverage.
The fourth option provided by the police would be to end the city’s relationship with Jim Baxter and Coalition.
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