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Hawkins ponders policy continuing health insurance for families of first responders killed on duty

Jeff Bobo • Feb 9, 2019 at 3:30 PM

ROGERSVILLE — Hawkins County commissioners spent about a half-hour Wednesday discussing a proposed health insurance benefit for sheriff’s deputies they hope they’ll never have to use.

The commission’s Insurance Committee agreed to recommend a resolution to the full commission that would provide health insurance benefits for the spouse and dependents of a full-time, county-employed first responder who is killed in the line of duty.

A similar resolution was placed on the commission agenda last November by Commissioner Jeff Barrett, but he agreed to withdraw that resolution and refer it to committee.

The new resolution won’t be ready for the commission to consider at its Feb. 25 meeting, however, because there are still a few questions that need to be answered.

What commissioners do know is as of July 1, 2017, counties are authorized under Tennessee Code Annotated 8-27-404 to seek reimbursement from the state for the county’s portion of the health insurance premiums for these eligible family members.

In Hawkins County, that would include approximately 107 employees of the Sheriff’s Office and the Emergency Management Agency director.

Hawkins County pays 70 percent of employee premiums, and the employee pays the other 30 percent.

Health insurance consultant Michael Trout told the committee there may be a way for the employee’s 30 percent to be reimbursed by the state as well, but it wasn’t clear if that would last for 18 months or 24 months.

Trout said he would work with commissioners to develop a plan to present to the full commission.

Committee Chairman Mark DeWitte told the Times News after the meeting that his goal, and he believes the committee’s goal, is to provide 100 percent of the health insurance benefits for the longest possible period of time if such an unfortunate circumstance took place.

The state law also addresses health insurance reimbursement for firefighters and rescue squad members killed in the line of duty. However, those first responders must be full-time county employee to be eligible, and Hawkins County’s fire and rescue responders are volunteers.

High turnover creates insurance problems

Trout told the panel that high turnover in the jail is creating paperwork headaches for him and added expense for the county due to a personnel policy that gives new hires health insurance less than a month after they start.

That policy allows new hires to receive health insurance on the first day of the next month after they are hired.

For example, a person hired Jan. 31 would begin receiving health insurance benefits on Feb. 1, while a person hired on Feb. 2 wouldn’t receive health insurance until March 1.

Trout said the problem occurs when new hires get their insurance card, quit, and continue racking up medical expenses on that card. The termination paperwork doesn’t reach him until the beginning of the next month.

Committee members voted to present the full commission a resolution that would require a new hire to work 60 days before receiving health insurance benefits.

Trout told the committee that statistically employees who stay on for 60 days are more likely to stay long term.

Committee officers elected

Wednesday’s meeting was the first since the new members of the Insurance Committee were appointed in October.

DeWitte was elected chairman, while Larry Clonce was elected vice chairman, and Bob Edens was elected secretary.


 

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