Carbon County is joining an intergovernmental cooperative to help with its employee insurance costs.

During the county commissioners' meeting on Thursday, the board voted unanimously to approve an agreement that makes Carbon County a member of the Pennsylvania Counties Health Insurance Purchasing Cooperative (PCHIPC).

Prior to the vote, Commissioner Wayne Nothstein, chairman, asked Joseph Pilla of ETA Benefits Group, to explain what the move means for the county.

Pilla explained that the reason for the new arrangement is because costs continue to rise.

"We have been self-funded for 15 years and were much larger, about 400 employees, because of the county nursing homme," Pilla said. "BUt now, over the last two years, we are down to about 250 employees so we have a smaller group and need more stability because our workforce is growing older and there are more claims."

He said that the move to a cooperative with 17 counties in the state is the best thing for Carbon because it will give the county more stability and better control over the costs.

He stressed that there will not be any changes to the current employee benefit plan. Carbon will still use Blue Cross for its health insurance provider. But one added benefit will be there now will be additional services available to employees that will allow them to connect with the provider and have assistance with their claims.

Pilla added that there will be some benefits on the county-level as well as, such as administrative advantages; and if the county does not spend all of the claims money in a year, it would get money back.

Commissioner William O'Gurek said that what sold him on the shift to a cooperative was the guaranteed annual premium. Currently, the county's annual premium fluctuates and has been increasing.

"I think our employees need to understand the benefit they are getting in terms of insurance," he said, adding that the county will be paying $602 per person, per month for benefits. "It is something that will benefit us in the long run."

Commissioners Wayne Nothstein and Thomas J. Gerhard, also thanked Pilla for helping to make the move to PCHIPC.

The county will begin as a member of PCHIPC in 2013.