Westmoreland County to again serve as its own workers compensation insurer
A controversial program initiated two years ago to have a private insurance company oversee Westmoreland County’s workers compensation cases will end this year.
County commissioners on Thursday said they will not give a new contract to the Housing and Redevelopment Insurance Exchange. Instead, the county will return to serving as its own insurer to handle claims from employees injured on the job. The exchange is a nonprofit consortium of housing authorities in Pennsylvania that operates as an insurance provider for local governments and agencies.
Workers compensation insurance became an issue after commissioners Gina Cerilli and Charles Anderson voted in 2017 to hand over responsibility for those claims to the private company, which was paid $1.69 million annually to provide the insurance benefits. The company also settled old cases, some of which had dragged on for decades.
“When we went into this two years ago, my mission to them was to clean the decks. They accomplished that mission, and there are just a couple of more (cases) out there,” Anderson said.
The county paid the firm to cover all costs of new cases. Settlements of old cases negotiated by the company were paid out of a county reserve account dedicated to resolving workers compensation claims.
Opponents of the initial move to private insurance initially criticized Cerilli for having received campaign donations from the company’s president prior to the vote. Cerilli denied those donations had any influence. According to campaign finance records, the company’s president, Charles Volpe, has since made additional campaign donations to Cerilli as well as to Anderson and Commissioner Ted Kopas.
Cerilli on Thursday called the program a success despite an increase in spending for workers compensation benefits.
“We paid more because we settled old claims — some were 25 to 30 years old,” Cerilli said. “We needed to be aggressive.”
Amanda Bernard, the county’s human resources director, said the private insurers settled 23 old cases and two additional claims brought in the last two years. Three older cases remain on the books. An average of about 300 workers compensation cases are filed each year, but most don’t result in long-term claims having to be paid out, Bernard said.
Kopas said the move to private insurance for workers compensation proved too expensive. He voted against the company’s hiring in 2017 and again last year.
“We spent more in Westmoreland County over the past two years than we ever have before,” Kopas said.
From 2011-16, the county spent an average of about $1.3 million annually for workers compensation benefits, officials said. More than $2 million was spent in 2017, with $2.3 million spent last year.
All three commissioners on Thursday voted to extend the company’s contract for three months to allow the county time to convert the program back. The company will be paid an additional $374,185 through the end of June. The contract had been set to expire at the end of March.
Rich Cholodofsky is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Rich at 724-830-6293, [email protected] or via Twitter .