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VOL. 132 | NO. 171 | Tuesday, August 29, 2017

County Commission Votes Down Health Coverage Change

By Bill Dries

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Shelby County Commissioners voted down a switch Monday, Aug, 28, of the county’s health insurance administration contract from Cigna to Aetna in an $11 million two-year contract with two renewals of one year each.

The county’s current contract with Cigna runs out at the end of May with no automatic extensions, meaning the county administration will likely present some kind of interim contract to commissioners later in lieu of a re-bidding of the contract.

The 4-7 vote followed a closed attorney-client session before Monday’s open meeting about the matter.

Commissioner Terry Roland said it was to warn commissioners that Aetna might sue if anything “arbitrary and capricious” was said during the commission’s debate.

“That’s no way to get my vote,” he added.

Such attorney-client sessions are usually held by county attorneys to remind commissioners that such contracts can be the subject of lawsuits or appeals by either the winning or the losing side given the amount of money that is at stake.

Commissioners Van Turner and Mark Billingsley recused themselves because of past and current ties among the local hospital giants who are part of the competing plans.

In open session, commissioners had questions about whether county employees could go to the same doctors and same hospitals in the change. County deputy chief administrative officer Kim Denbow said 98 percent of county employees would see no change.

Aetna representatives said they were trying to work out an agreement with Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare. But Methodist president and CEO Michael Ugwueke said he wasn’t aware of any negotiations with Aetna.

“I would have loved to before now,” he told commissioners, saying it would have been better to hold such talks from the beginning of the process. “We are in the 10th hour now.”

Commissioner Reginald Milton was among those who voted no after no minority business goals were set. A 20 percent goal for locally owned-business participation was set that the county judged Aetna did not meet.

“If it’s not in black and white, it’s not there,” he concluded. “This did not follow the way it should have been done. This was a race that wasn’t run fairly.”

Denbow said both competitors made pledges toward minority business and locally-owned business spending but that the administration’s hands were tied in the process because once the bids were in, the administration was barred from trying to negotiate the percentages.

“This has been a fair process,” she said. “If you don’t like the results, I understand.”

Meanwhile, the commission approved a $268,000 annual contact with Express Scripts Inc. for pharmacy and prescription coverage.

The funding for both contracts, pharmacy and health care, comes from employee group health insurance funds and OPEB (other post employment benefits) trust funds.

The county also approved retired state criminal appeals court judge Paul G. Summers as the new settlement agreement coordinator over the five-year-old settlement governing conditions and processes at Memphis-Shelby County Juvenile Court.

The settlement agreement is among the court, county government and the U.S. Justice Department. The coordinator oversees the communications among the three parties with the federal officials.

Summers is also a former Tennessee Attorney General and District Attorney General.

Summers’ contract runs from Sept. 1 through June 30, 2018, the end of the current fiscal year, which options for two renewals of one year each beyond that.

The contract provides up to $102,000 in county funds for the services of Summers.

He replaces Bill Powell, the local criminal justice system expert who served as the settlement coordinator from the inception of the settlement until his resignation this past June.

That’s about the time that Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell, Juvenile Court Judge Dan Michael and Shelby County Sheriff Bill Oldham requested that U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions drop the remaining points in the settlement and end federal oversite.

The request has drawn opposition from a majority of the county commission, the Memphis City Council and a coalition of 19 local organizations led by the Memphis Branch NAACP.

Sessions has not announced any decision on the request but dropped several points of the agreement in April.

In other action Monday, commissioners approved a $995,000 contract with Everyone Counts Inc. of La Jolla, California to replace the county’s current voter registration and election management system. The company provides software and services under the “eLect” brand for web-based voter registration, online voting and remote accessible voting.

The contract includes up to $100,000 per year for maintenance of the software and systems for a three-year period.

Commissioners also moved toward more changes in an ordinance that would have raised the bars on annual sales thresholds as part of qualifying to be a locally-owned small business to bid on county government projects.

At second reading, with third and final reading set for next month, the ordinance leaves in place a $5 million bar on commercial construction companies that qualify as LOSB’s. If they make more than that they are ineligible.

The local chapter of the Associated Builders and Contractors Inc. questions the $5 million threshold saying for commercial construction it is easy to reach the limit yet still be a locally-owned business that needs assistance.

County Equal Opportunity Compliance officer Carolyn Watkins said one possibility is to allow companies above the threshold to become mentors to other businesses.

Roland, however, questioned whether that amounts to advising a competing business on how to win a contract the mentor has.

“Isn’t that socialism?” he asked. “To me, that’s kind of anti-American.”

“It’s necessary to move the needle on small business,” Watkins responded.

The commission did not vote on second reading Monday, which isn’t necessary to move onto third reading. But the lack of a vote signifies there could be more changes in committee sessions after the Labor Day holiday.

The Monday commission meeting also marked the last in the year-long tenure of Melvin Burgess as chairman of the 13-member body. Heidi Shafer begins her tenure as the new commission chairwoman in September.

PROPERTY SALES 90 283 8,118
MORTGAGES 94 333 9,118
BUILDING PERMITS 199 644 17,711
BANKRUPTCIES 40 109 5,268