Serving Gogebic, Iron and Ontonagon Counties

Mercer looks to join health co-op

MERCER, Wis. — The Mercer Town Board of Supervisors on Thursday approved a change to health insurance coverage to a another agency for the duration of an application period to an insurance cooperative for municipalities known as Spectrum Employer Group Co-op.

The 4-0 vote, with board member Eric Snow not present, will switch coverage for eight of the town employees from the current insurer to a second insurer from October through Jan. 1, 2021. The action also designates Vic Ouimette, a town board supervisor who works in the insurance industry, as the liaison to the cooperative membership if the town’s application is approved.

The annual co-op rates are $126,000 and would save the town more than $40,000 annually off the current insurer and provide the same coverage, said John Sendra, town board chair. The reason for the change was the 23% increase announcement from the current insurer after rates had already increased more than 50% over the last three years. 

“The co-op presents a 6% increase but promises substantial long-term savings,” Sendra said.

Ouimette expressed concerns that many health cooperatives tend to fail within five years. There could be additional expenses and increased rates or liabilities later that the town is not prepared to plan for at this time, he said.

“The old saying that something seems too good to be true, sometimes it is,” he said.

Tony Hallgren, the cooperative representative who works in sales and client services for the Hedlund Agency, based in Medford, said there are around 40 different companies in the co-op that includes a variety of townships and municipalities, banks, manufacturers and car dealerships.

The co-op formed in 2018 after the federal government allowed health cooperatives to expand beyond worker or consumer groups into wider networks, he said. The co-op is currently into its second annual renewal with no rate increase and looks to move forward with a 5% or less annual increase.

An additional first month premium is held in trust and is to help avoid member drift for co-op stability for the duration of the 25-month agreement, if the town is approved.

The co-op does include Aspirus in the plan. If the co-op application is not approved, the bridge plan will provide similar coverage to the current plan but does not include Aspirus in the network.

The board 4-0 approved an amended sidewalk ordinance that leaves the minimum passage for businesses to place tables on concrete sidewalks where there is a minimum of 24 inches clearance.

The board 4-0 postponed an amended town parking ordinance to allow the town’s attorney to revise language that will make the update apply more generally to avoid the likelihood of additional amendments in the future. The changes apply to businesses reserving parking spaces for drive-up service during business hours.

The board 4-0 accepted the resignation of Mercer Planning Commission member Thomas Thompson Jr. The board then appointed alternate member Robert Davis to full member for the duration of the term, and named Bill Brundage as the new alternate member.

In his report, Sendra said he followed up on Hedda Patzke’s request at the previous meeting to help form a community action campaign to entice the Marshfield Clinic to reopen its Mercer Center to be more convenient to the town’s elderly population. He said the clinic responded that no decision could be made one way or the other for the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sendra said that several blight letters were recently sent and that while there has been a positive response, there are a few properties that may require a higher level response.

The board went into executive session to review correspondence and returned to open session taking no action.

The next regular meeting of the board of supervisors will be held at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 17, at the Mercer Community Center.

In other business, the board 4-0 approved:

—Postponing a request for a business to deviate from the town sidewalk and parking ordinances.

—A conditional use permit for an accessory building for a residential property and its proposed buyer provided there is no commercial use or habitation.

—A conditional use permit for a seasonal campground with three sites for Winding Path Corporation at 263S U.S. 51.

—Approved a request to allow the pickleball activity to resume at the Mercer Community Center.

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