Up & Coming Weekly

March 29, 2022

Up and Coming Weekly is a weekly publication in Fayetteville, NC and Fort Bragg, NC area offering local news, views, arts, entertainment and community event and business information.

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Page 11 of 28

WWW.UPANDCOMINGWEEKLY.COM MARCH 30 - APRIL 5, 2022 UCW 11 Facing a crucial decision about benefits for employees, Cumberland County is going to ask its workers for their perspective. Cumberland County will survey its employees in the coming weeks to see whether they prefer higher premi- ums with lower deductibles, or vice versa, as part of the upcoming fiscal year's health insurance plan. e Board of Commissioners last Monday unanimous- ly approved taking $2 million from the county's general fund to keep premiums and deductibles the same as last year as a way to keep high and rising health care costs in check for employees. Before finalizing those rates, though, commissioners want to see what workers prefer. Commissioner Jimmy Keefe, who objected to not low- ering deductibles at a previous meeting, introduced the idea of a survey. "I'm not asking for any additional money, but possibly paying a higher premium to get a lower deductible," he said. Oftentimes, Keefe said, employees are unable to pay the high deductibles, resulting in letters and calls from collection agencies. "It's just a revolving door of pain and suffering," he said. e current deductible for individuals, under the county's plan through Blue Cross Blue Shield, is $2,000. For employees and their families, it's $6,000. e monthly premium for a standard wellness plan is $21 for individu- als and $296 for families. How premiums impact deductibles Cumberland Finance Director Vicki Evans said key differences exist between premiums and deductibles that prevent an exact offset in increases and decreases to either. "e premiums give the county upfront money because that's being deducted from the employees' pay every pay period, but the deductible is on the back end," she said. Most employees are far from likely to pay the full de- ductible, as that requires receiving that much health care in a given year. "Many of our employees, they never meet (the deduct- ible)," Evans said. "ey go to primary care visits only during the year. Primary care visits are only subject to copays. ere's no real impact on the people who may be paying more for a premium without additional benefit." To determine the effect of a higher premium on the deductible, Evans said, the county's insurance broker will need to run figures that account for a collective claims history among employees. According to a presentation to the county during its previous meeting, annual paid claims rose to over $22 million, an increase of 21.5%. Evans said she expects to have the survey results ready to present to the commis- sioners by their second meeting next month on April 18. Rising health care costs Before the board's agreement, Cumberland was pro- jected to have a $4.38 million deficit in health care costs for the upcoming year, according to the county. Beyond the $2 million from the general fund, the board agreed to raise employer contributions as part of next year's budget to make up the rest of the costs. Last year, before the increase in paid claims, the board had planned to decrease deductibles by $1,000, but rising costs rendered that financially impossible. "It's just not good news," Chairman Glenn Adams said at a previous meeting upon hearing the news. "A benefit isn't a benefit if you can't afford to pay it." To keep the cost of that benefit the same for now, the board decided to invest the $2 million. But those costs could keep increasing. "e county is continuing to monitor health insurance cost trends on a monthly basis," an emailed statement from the county said. "Trends are showing health insur- ance costs are rising. However, each year the broker will evaluate and determine feasibility of various deductible amounts." County keeps health reimbursement plan In an attempt to keep health costs low for workers, the board also decided to keep in place the health reim- bursement account for employees. e HRA, which was established last year, allows employees, once they go over the $1,000 deductible mark, to apply for reimbursement of health costs up to $1,000. e broker, however, didn't recommend renewal, as it costs the county $7,000 per month in administration costs. "is isn't the traditional way to handle deductibles but is a way the board could help members in managing health insurance costs," county officials said. Spring Lake gets help from Local Government Commission after audit report Following a State Auditor's Office report about the misappropriation of funds in Spring Lake, the Local Gov- ernment Commission (LGC) will officially step in to avoid payment processing problems. Following the release of the audit report, Interim Town Manager Samantha Wullenwaber was fired by the city. According to the LGC, Wullenwaber had the authority to sign checks and her abrupt dismissal left the town with limited options to perform that function. During a special meeting on March 23, the LGC voted to retain David Erwin as the town's finance officer and ap- pointed Tiffany Anderson and Susan McCullen as deputy finance officers. All three are State and Local Govern- ment Finance Division employees. Erwin was retained as account signatory. Anderson and McCullen also were named account signatories. ese appointees should ensure that checks go out on time. e Board of Alderman held their own closed session meeting the following night. While the board took no formal action and nothing was voted on, a new interim town manager was announced. e board agreed to hire Joe Durham from Joe Durham and Associates. Additionally, Spring Lake's town attorney, Jonathan Charleston, submitted his resignation on March 23. According to the LGC, in Charleston's letter to Spring Lake Mayor Kia Anthony, he expressed appreciation for the opportunity to work with the board. "While we have worked with the town through several challenges, we believe now is a good time to transition to new counsel," Charleston's letter stated, as recounted by the LGC. Charleston has provided a 30-day notice, but he said he "can accommodate a sooner departure with the town's express consent," according to the LGC. Cumberland County files lawsuit against for environmental pollution Cumberland County filed a lawsuit earlier this month against Chemours and DuPont chemical companies, accusing the companies of causing severe groundwater contamination in the county. e law firm companies, Crueger Dickinson L.L.C. and Baron & Budd, P.C., filed the lawsuit on behalf of Cumberland County. DuPont has had a chemical facility in Cumberland County dating back to the 1960s. In the 1980s, DuPont started discharging a chemical known as PFOA into the Cape Fear River. PFOA was a type of PFAS chemical, also known as a "forever chemical" because they do not naturally break down and accumulate in the environment and the blood and organs of people and animals. In 2005, PFOA was phased out after the Environmental Protection Agency penalized DuPont for failing to report informa- tion about its risk to human health and the environment. In 2009, the company began using a substitute known as GenX, another type of PFAS substance, claiming it was safer. However, the E.P.A. has since said that GenX exposure is associated with an increased risk of health problems in animal studies, including issues in the kid- ney, liver, immune system and others. Additionally, it can increase the risk of cancer. In October 2020, North Carolina filed a lawsuit against DuPont and Chemours, alleging they were aware of the health threats associated with GenX. e county's complaint alleges that the companies dis- charged these toxic chemicals into the air, groundwater, and surface water for decades. "ese companies have used the environment sur- rounding the Fayetteville Works facility as a dumping ground for hundreds of chemicals while assuring the E.P.A. and state agencies that they were doing no such thing," the Complaint alleges. According to the county, these chemicals have been detected at two elementary schools and have impacted thousands of Cumberland County residents who use groundwater wells as their sole water source. Up & Coming Weekly has reached out to the Chemours Company F.C., L.L.C., DuPont de Nemours, Inc., and Cor- teva, Inc. about the lawsuit but has not heard back. Cumberland to survey employees on health insurance decision by HANNAH LEE & BEN SESSOMS NEWS DIGEST

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