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City employees to receive more preventive care under cheaper insurance

City employees in Grand Forks will receive more preventive care services next year through a new plan from private insurer Blue Cross Blue Shield, after a council vote Monday night.

The city of Grand Forks currently receives coverage from the North Dakota Public Employee Retirement System, a public pension program covering approximately 63,200 state employees this year. City employees have access to a "grandfathered" plan, which offers fewer preventive care services such as cancer screenings and contraceptives, because it was grandfathered in with the Affordable Care Act of 2010.

In a memo written to the council before its meeting, Human Resource Director Daryl Hovland said switching to a grandfathered plan would save the city approximately 7 percent, while switching to a non-grandfathered plan would save the city 4 percent.

When the city requested information last December and discovered it could save as much as 7 percent on next year's budget, it requested more official rates from Blue Cross Blue Shield and Sanford Health, another private insurer, in May. A city Pension and Insurance Committee met in June for presentations from both insurers, and it reconvened in July for a decision after receiving feedback from employee surveys and a group of employee representatives.

"We saw a little over 50 percent respond to that survey, which is fairly good," Linsey Rood from Human Resources told the council Friday night. "What we saw there is about 56 percent favored moving to a grandfathered plan with Blue Cross Blue Shield."

Rood added the switch won't just save the city 4 percent on next year's budget, "but it's also fair to our employees as well." Hovland's memo broke down how much money each city employee will save, with families seeing $7.89 per paycheck and single employees seeing $3.39.

In June, Compensation and Benefits Administrator Tangee Bouvette said 485 eligible city employees are eligible for city coverage. Of the survey respondents, approximately 85 percent said they're covered through the city. Of the 35 respondents who said they're not covered by the city, 15 said they'll enroll if the city gets a new health insurance plan.

Last year, the city of Fargo also switched to Blue Cross Blue Shield. "From what I know," Rood said, "the transition was successful, and we're anticipating a successful transition as well." Hovland's memo reported that Blue Cross Blue Shield will give the city a $25,000 wellness benefit and $25,000 administrative credit to help with the transition period this fall.

"I think it's a great move and it's something that proves we're always looking for things outside the box to improve our health care," council member Weigel said before the vote.

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