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Commissioners question health insurance for non-county employees

Posted at 9:21 PM, Sep 25, 2019
and last updated 2019-09-26 01:05:12-04

NUECES COUNTY, Texas — The small staff of Nueces County Drainage District #2 had health care coverage through the county for years, even though the district is not a county agency. But in 2015, this letter was sent to them, stating that the district would need to pay an additional $61,000 to account for increased premiums.

"With our small budget, we didn't have the money at the time so we had to pull out of the county insurance," said Sara Garcia, the district's office manager. "Our worry was this year, it's $60,000. What if next year it's $100,000 or $200,000 or, you know even more? And that takes a huge impact on a small budget."

It was recently discovered that no one under the county health plan paid higher premiums during that same time span, and that request for additional money should not have been made. That's why there was a proposal to allow those employees to enroll again. Nueces County Judge Barbara Canales added that, in a stroke of luck, the drainage district was never written off the paperwork for the county health plan.

"I want to apologize because that's wrong and we're trying to correct that wrong," Canales said during Wednesday's commissioner's court meeting.

Although all commissioners agreed the county was wrong to send the letter, the situation prompted a bigger question from commissioner Brent Chesney.

"Why would any non-Nueces County employee be in the plan? How did this historically happen?" Chesney asked the court.

According to the count attorney, health coverage is allowed if it's established in an interlocal agreement between the county and an agency considered to be local government. That only led to more questions from Chesney, who believes there still needs to be clarification.

"I've had requests from my ESD (emergency services district) to be in on this and we told them no. How do I go back and say to them 'no' when we're letting these people be on the plan?" he asked.

Canales agreed that commissioners should talk more about it, but said going forward with today's vote was the right thing. The motion passed after commissioner Carolyn Vaughn, despite some concerns, switched her "no" vote to a "yes" vote.

Vaughn explained, "I don't agree with putting anybody that are not employees on our policy, but it is clear to me from reading this that the county made an error. It's our error."

Sara Garcia said she is grateful that the commissioners allowed her and her fellow drainage district employees to be covered by the county again.

"I was on their insurance for about ten years before having to leave and the insurance that they have is very, very good insurance. I've never had any problems with it," she said.

Wednesday's vote by commissioners also amended the county policy to reflect that any non-county agency that voluntarily leaves the health plan cannot come back. Canales said the drainage district faced a "unique circumstance" and the errant request for more than $61,000 left the agency no other choice.

Employees will now be able to participate in the upcoming enrollment period for the county health plan, which starts on October 1.