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Water board moves to PEIA health plan

November 29, 2018

HUNTINGTON — The Huntington Water Quality Board is set to save approximately $1.7 million after being given approval to switch from a self-insured health plan to West Virginia’s Public Employees Insurance Agency coverage.

Members of Huntington City Council approved the switch during a regular meeting Monday. It was necessary because the self-insured plan accounted for 85 percent of the board’s payroll expenses, said Brian Bracey, executive director for the Huntington Water Quality Board.

With the switch to PEIA coverage, those payroll expenses will drop to less than 50 percent, he said.

“It is a fixed cost, and that’s a big thing for us,” Bracey said. “As a self-insurer, our costs continuously were rising based on the health care conditions of our employees and their families, so there was always an unknown factor.”

Under the PEIA coverage, employees will be given at least seven options to choose from, and that adds dental insurance, which employees did not have previously. The coverage also offers a pharmacy benefit plan and a flex plan to cover the cost of any deductibles or related health expenses.

There’s an option to include vision benefits for those who require it, Bracey said.

“It’s up to each member to select their individual plan,” he said. “With seven plans to choose from, they might choose one that has less eye care coverage than the others.”

Bracey said the money saved on insurance expenses could be used to offset the steep costs of hauling sewage sludge from the city’s Wastewater Treatment Plant.

For months, the Huntington Wastewater Treatment Plant has been limited in where it can haul the sludge after an Ohio landfill stopped its dealings with the city because of the sludge’s foul smell.

The city now hauls the sludge to the Republic Services’ Green Valley Landfill in Ashland, requiring that it be treated with expensive lime to combat the odor.

Scott Kelley, the wastewater plant’s chief operator, said they are only allowed to haul treated sludge there twice a day and are charged a rate of $65 a ton. The city generates approximately 60 to 80 tons of sludge every day and it’s only budgeted for $29.50 a ton, he said.

He said a contract with the landfill will be up in June 2019 and those rates are expected to increase.

The sewage sludge used to be incinerated at the wastewater plant before the incinerator equipment reached the end of its acceptable use about five years ago, Bracey said. Bracey said the Huntington Water Quality Board will need to come up with a permanent solution to fix the problem because the expense of treating and hauling the sludge is not sustainable.

Travis Crum Is a reporter for The Herald-Dispatch. He may be reached by phone at 304-526-2801.

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