Ellis County commissioners on Monday voted unanimously to renew employee health insurance coverage for the next three years, but said they weren’t happy with their options.

The commission — following the recommendation of a staff committee — opted to stick with the county’s current provider, the State Employee Health Plan, despite significant cost increases. Health insurance is expected to cost the county approximately $2.59 million next year alone.

Frustrated by significant price hikes, the county this summer hired an outside consultant to see if better rates or coverage options might be available elsewhere. After comparing the SEHP with a proposal from Blue Cross Blue Shield, it turned out switching policies wouldn’t result in much savings for the county — and it would drive up premium costs for many employees, County Administrator Phillip Smith-Hanes said.

“In order for the county to save $25,000, the employees would actually be paying about another $40,000 out of their own pockets,” he said. “Our employee committee did not feel that was a very good deal.”

Commissioners expressed anger that — despite paying millions of dollars for health insurance — the State Employee Health Plan refuses to provide claims history, which potentially makes it more difficult for the county to obtain competitive proposals.

Commission Chairperson Barbara Wasinger criticized the state’s decision to hold claims data “hostage.”

“Something that’s very troubling to me is why aren’t we getting access to our claims? We stay with the state to save our employees money, but we continue to be in a position … of not having access to our own claims data, making withdrawal from the state plan challenging as well,” she said. “Why don’t we have access to what we paid for?”

Smith-Hanes said the answer, in part, is due to the insurance company’s efforts to comply with HIPAA, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act that ensures patient privacy. County officials, however, noted it is possible to receive a list of submitted claims without employees being named.

County counselor Bill Jeter wrote the company a letter requesting data on behalf of the county, which resulted in obtaining partial data for two years worth of claims, Smith-Hanes said, noting officials are willing to pursue the issue further.

“This might be something that we can also address legislatively at some point as well,” he said. “It’s not just Ellis County that’s in this position; there are other organizations ... even here in town.”

In other business, the commission:

• Approved updates to the Ellis County Fire Department’s mutual aid agreements with the cities of Ellis, Victoria and Hays.

• Approved repair of a motor grader for the public works department.

• Watched a demonstration of features included in the county’s newly designed website, ellisco.net.