MAHONING COUNTY Officials to seek bids for health insurance

A county official blamed greedy drug companies for the rate increases.
YOUNGSTOWN -- Mahoning County officials are bracing to face a medical problem. They expect acute pain in the pocketbook.
They will seek bids next month for health insurance for county employees.
They're hoping for good news once the results are in, but are preparing themselves for the worst.
J. Kevin Sellards, human resources director, said national health care costs are spiraling upward at a dizzying pace with no end in sight. There's no reason to expect this area to be immune, he said.
"I'm scared because I don't know where this is going," he said. "I've done this work for 30 years, and I don't think there is anybody who has a handle on what direction this is going to go on the national level."
In contract: Commissioners are in the middle of a two-year contract with Medical Mutual that increased the county's health insurance premiums by 50 percent. The pact expires March 1.
Sellards said prescription drug cost for county workers is a large part of the reason for the sharp increase. The cost went from $460,000 in 1998 to $1.7 million last year.
"That's obscene," he said, noting that it's the cost of the medicines, not the number of claims, that accounts for the increase.
Commissioners hope that the county's 1,400 employees will be enough incentive for a provider to offer lower premiums and help keep the costs down, but they aren't holding out much hope.
Sellards said the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicted recently that health-care costs will increase nearly 20 percent a year for the next two years for groups such as the county.
EMA building: Commissioners also agreed to seek bids for construction of a new building to house the Emergency Management Agency. It will be on county-owned property near the county engineer's office on Industrial Road, on the city's West Side.
Besides the EMA staff, it will hold the department's equipment for the hazardous materials response team.
Commissioners also authorized an auction of surplus county equipment at 10 a.m. Sept. 22.
It will be at the sanitary engineer's office, which is adjacent to the highway engineer's.
James Fortunato, purchasing director, said the sale will include about 50 used vehicles from the sanitary and highway engineers' fleets.
"They've become obsolete and outlived their usefulness," Fortunato said. "Most of them have been pretty well cannibalized for parts."

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