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Granite Shoals is taking the leap and leaving its longtime health insurance provider, TX Health Benefits Pool, after learning city employees would face extreme premium increases or out-of-reach deductibles. The city has until the end of October to find a new, more affordable provider.

The City Council voted unanimously to drop the Texas Municipal League’s health insurance plan during its regular meeting on Tuesday, June 27. The vote came after City Secretary Dawn Wright informed the council that insurance premiums would rise as much as 50 percent going into the 2023-24 fiscal year. 

The city’s employee benefits program has been a recurring subject before the council. High health insurance costs were cited as a reason for chronic understaffing in some city departments. The current health insurance rate for a single employee is $711.30 per month with a $750 deductible. If the city stayed with TML for the coming year, that same coverage would cost $1,066.96 a month, an unrealistic and unaffordable number for many Granite Shoals employees.

“We’re looking at a 50 percent increase — five-zero — which would raise our premiums extensively,” Wright told the council. “We’re going to see an increase across the board in insurance, but 50 percent, in my opinion as (human resources) manager, is unacceptable.”

Wright informed council members that they only had until Friday, June 30, to make their decision, but TML’s coverage would continue until the end of October. 

Mayor Kiel Arnone was shocked to hear about the proposed increase.

“That (increase) would give some of our employees not even a paycheck,” he said.

Wright said she was hopeful another provider would have lower rates and that City Manager Peggy Smith is actively seeking potential replacements for TML.

“This is not a new discussion,” Place 6 Councilor Phil Ort told the council. “I’ve been attending these council meetings for seven years, and every year it’s the same thing.”

Ort expressed concerns about the risks in leaving TML. Now that the city has made its decision, it will not be able to return to TML at its former rate. There is also the potential that other providers will up their rates, which could leave the city without an affordable option and nothing to fall back on.

Place 2 Councilor Kevin Flack asked that the reinstatement of the Employee Benefits Committee be added to the next City Council agenda so work could begin on finding a new provider as soon as possible. Former Mayor Aaron Garcia created the committee in December 2022 in an attempt to solve the high insurance cost problem, but no results materialized.

dakota@thepicayune.com