BERRYVILLE — It's becoming more likely that a different company will be providing health insurance to Clarke County government and school division employees when the new year starts.
Amid an ongoing contract dispute between Valley Health and Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield, negotiations with another insurance provider are underway, Joint Administrative Services Director Brenda Bennett told the Clarke County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday.
Valley Health is the parent company of Winchester Medical Center and five other hospitals in the region. Anthem, one of the largest health insurance companies operating in Virginia, serves government and school workers not only in Clarke County, but also in Winchester and Frederick County. The company insures an estimated 40,000 people in the region.
Winchester told its government workers last Friday that it was dropping Anthem as its health insurance provider and contracting with United Healthcare.
The current four-year contract between Valley Health and Anthem ends on Dec. 31. Both parties have indicated they're trying to reach a deal, but Valley Health President and CEO Mark Nantz said in September that negotiations for a new contract were stalled over rates and Valley Health's rate of reimbursement. An Anthem official has said the company cannot agree to the rate increases Valley Health is seeking because the Winchester area would have some of the highest health care costs in Virginia.
If a new contract is not finalized before the end of the year, Anthem and related Blue Cross Blue Shield customers who seek medical care from Valley Health will be considered out-of-network, meaning they will have to pay higher fees.
According to Bennett, four insurance providers submitted proposals that could meet the county's needs. With help from a consultant, Sam Irby of Innovative Insurance Group, the county's Joint Administrative Services Board interviewed three of the four via videoconferences. The panel has begun negotiating with the provider it determined will best meet the county's needs.
Joint Administrative Services is the department that oversees finances for the county and its school division.
"We wanted proposals from (insurance) carriers that mirrored what we have right now" in terms of coverage and costs, Bennett said.
The goal is to shift employees to a new carrier without them seeing any coverage or rate changes, said Bennett. The coverage is to become effective on Jan. 1 and continue through June 30, the end of the current fiscal year, she said.
There will be no open enrollment period until spring, and it will be for coverage in fiscal 2022, she added.
County Administrator Chris Boies said officials cannot elaborate on the continuing negotiations. Details of the new insurance coverage will be provided to employees "as soon as the contract with the new carrier is signed," he said.
Unless Anthem and Valley Health resolve their contract dispute "in the next couple of days," county employees will have a new health insurance provider effective Jan. 1.