The cost of providing health insurance to Phelps County employees next year will likely be one of the biggest impacts to the county’s 2013 budget.

During a meeting with county department heads Thursday morning, Phelps County Commissioners and Sheran Ashby, a broker with Ashby’s Covenant Insurance, discussed the possibility of switching health care providers next year.

The county’s present insurance carrier is Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield, but county commissioners and Ashby noted that if the county stays with that provider, it could mean an increase of about $210,000 in costs next year.

The county is still in the bidding process with health insurance providers. No rates or names of companies were mentioned during Thursday’s meeting.

Ashby said there is one company she and commissioners are considering and after obtaining health information from county employees, she will get a quote from that particular carrier as well as three others.

“It’s not a guarantee we’re changing,” Stratman said, but he noted that if no change is made to providers, he worried that the county would not be able to absorb the increased costs and that employees might have to pay more than 10 percent of premiums.

Stratman said the best case scenario is that the county will pay about the same for health insurance in 2013 as it did this year.

“We got hit hard this year,” said County Clerk Carol Bennett. She noted that the county has a poor loss ratio.

Bennett said the commissioners are trying to maintain the county’s current level of coverage and “have the employees’ best interest at heart.”

The renewal date to stay with the current provider is Jan. 1 and open enrollment for county employees is in December.

All full-time county employees who are eligible for benefits can still keep life insurance whether or not they choose to accept health insurance, it was noted.

In other business

Commissioners were informed that a section of County Road 7570 in western Phelps County will be closed starting Tuesday, Dec. 4, for six to eight weeks to replace a railroad bridge.

Bennett told the commission that she received a letter of resignation from Phelps County Associate Circuit Judge Bill Hickle. Hickle won the Nov. 6 election for the 25th Judicial Circuit Judge, replacing Tracy Storie, who will retire at the end of this year. Hickle’s resignation is effective Jan. 1, 2013. The 25th Judicial Circuit covers Phelps, Pulaski, Maries and Texas counties. Nominations to replace Hickle as associate circuit judge will be sent to Gov. Jay Nixon and Bennett said she hopes to have a replacement named after the new year.

Commissioners will meet with a Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) official regarding the county’s Bridge Replacement Off-System (BRO) funds Dec. 13 at the county courthouse. It has been suggested that counties obligate all of their BRO funds. The funds are distributed based on deficient bridges in a county. The county’s BRO fund allocation for fiscal year 2012 is $127,407.62. The balance of available BRO funds for Phelps County, according to a MoDOT letter, on Sept. 11 total $170,035.29. The county's soft match funds total $18,143.38.