By Kimberly Peterson

Arizona Daily Wildcat

Pima and Maricopa County employees will get a chance to upgrade their insurance policies next week but this offer, as they say, is for a limited time only.

Employees of the two counties, which include University of Arizona and Arizona State University faculty and staff, currently have insurance under a contract instituted by the Arizona Legislature in August 1992.

This policy prohibits employees from choosing their own doctors. Instead, they must receive care through specified health maintenance organizations.

For example, Intergroup Arizona is licensed at the state level by the Department of Insurance as an HMO. This organization and Bay Colony of Arizona are subsidiaries of the Intergroup Healthcare Corporation.

State employees in Pima and Maricopa counties choose from four plans under these two subsidiaries.

But state employees in rural Arizona counties, such as Pinal and Yuma, still have the option to choose their own doctors.

Many people have complained about this current policy, said Carol Bernstein, a UA microbiology and immunology research associate professor.

About 300 people have written letters complaining of serious health problems that HMO physicians could not adequately address, she said.

"There was a great deal of public outcry at how bad the health care options in Arizona were," Bernstein said.

State employees have criticized HMOs for delays in medical treatment and payment for such treatment.

Also, if an employee traveled out of Arizona, coverage was rendered ineffective during the travel period, said Harvey Smith, a math professor at ASU.

So, after receiving letters and petitions protesting the current health care options, the state is now offering the chance for faculty employees to get coverage from Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Arizona starting June 1 an insurance plan that has been available to the rural counties.

The new coverage is called an indemnity plan, and allows employees to receive benefits not previously offered, she said.

"If you have some emergency that requires expertise that's not in one of the HMOs, this indemnity policy will allow you to get the expertise you need," Bernstein said.

The new policy will also allow employees to receive health care outside of Arizona, and offers preventive health exams without a deductible, Bernstein said.

"It promotes preventive care, and when there is a serious medical problem, you can use your intelligence to select your practitioner," she said.

This new contract is likely to gain approval from all sides, said Stuart Goodman, a legislative liaison at the Arizona Department of Administration.

"We got a plan that is not beneficial just to employees, but for the state as well," Goodman said. "It is a low deductible and traditional indemnity plan, and it offers complete choice of doctors."

Employees can sign up for the Blue Cross/Blue Shield program starting April 27, but the contract will be withdrawn if 2,000 people from both Pima and Maricopa counties do not enroll by May 13.

This amount is necessary to insure a broad enough pool of people so Blue Cross/Blue Shield will make a profit, Smith said.

The time and place where employees can sign up for the new plan has not yet been announced. Read Next Article