AP NEWS

Wagener mayor: $51K insurance debt is being worked on, employee benefits unaffected

January 31, 2018

Town of Wagener employees will not have their insurance benefits interrupted despite a seven-month payment lull on the part of the town.

Wagener Mayor Mike Miller said Tuesday the issue has been resolved and no coverage lapse will occur.

“We got it taken care of,” Miller said.

On Jan. 24, the state Public Employee Benefit Authority – an organization that provides insurance plans to more than 436,000 public employees and manages retirement plans for almost 549,000 – sent a letter to Miller stating the town’s delinquent account meant PEBA’s insurance claim payments were to be suspended as of Jan. 31.

The lack of payment, PEBA Communications Director Megan Lightle said Tuesday, meant health insurance claims, derived from doctor visits, could not be covered for Wagener employees.

“We cannot continue to provide coverage with the uncertainty of timely payment of premiums,” the letter, signed by PEBA Director of Insurance Finance Phyllis Buie, reads.

The town of Wagener was seven months behind on payments through January, according to the letter, accruing an unpaid premium total of $51,005.12.

Miller, on Tuesday, said the town has since been given a repayment extension. He said a “significant portion of what was past due” was paid off very recently. Lightle could not confirm that.

Buie’s letter says PEBA had reached out to the town’s administration multiple times and had granted previous extensions.

“It’s all in order now…” Miller said. “We’ve fixed it.”

Miller said the entire $51,005.12 will be paid off by the end of February.

Lightle said PEBA has not cancelled the employee claim payments because the town has “pledged” to catch up.

Miller said the debt grew while the town took care of other pressing issues: broken water lines, for example.

“Two years ago we ran into some expensive issues with the water department,” the mayor said, adding: “2018 is going to be an, excuse me, damn-good year compared to what we’ve had.”

Miller said most town employees have been cooperative during the resultant cost crunching.