Kern County will enter the health insurance market over the next few months, calling for pitches from companies who want to manage two of its four insurance plans for county employees.
County supervisors voted 3-2 Tuesday to open the two five-year-old contracts, currently held by Kaiser Permanente and Managed Care Systems, to competitive bids.
The move could reopen old wounds from a heated 2013 battle over another MCS contract.
That fight ended when supervisors Zack Scrivner, Mick Gleason and Leticia Perez awarded the Bakersfield firm’s contract to a trio of out-of-state companies over concerns about a potential conflict of interest.
On Tuesday, those same three supervisors argued it was time to give other companies a shot at claiming another MCS contract, as well as the Kaiser plan.
Supervisors David Couch and Mike Maggard, who supported the MCS contract bid in 2013, argued Tuesday the county needs to take a broader look at all four of its employee health insurance plans.
"It sounds good to go out to an RFP and see what's out there," Couch said. "But I think we're focusing on the wrong thing."
The county needs to investigate whether it can save money on health care in general, he argued.
Ultimately the decision came down to Perez.
She said the county has gotten good service from Kaiser and MCS and she wouldn't be surprised if they win the contracts when the bids come in.
But Perez didn’t see a reason to skip a bidding process and voted with Gleason and Scrivner.
Also Tuesday, supervisors also voted to give an east Kern landowner a month to clean up a costly mess that plunged his neighbors into a dusty sort of hell.
Gleason pulled no punches.
He said Michael McGee's early 2013 decision to clear the vegetation from 80 acres upwind of the Black Mountain Estates was “horrible” and violated the rights of his neighbors.
McGee acknowledged the desert’s powerful winds drove the topsoil he’d scraped clean of plant life over his neighbors’ homes, filling their yards with sand dunes and coating their property inside and out with dust.
"We made a nightmare of our investment," he said.
But he argued he’d fought for a year to make his mistake good, spraying a glue coating over the ground and — when that didn’t work — putting up miles of snow fencing to break the wind and reduce the dust.
His neighbors said he hadn’t done enough.
Gleason said he cared about only one thing: fixing the mess.
Engineering, Surveying and Permit Services Director Greg Fenton said he believes McGee wants to make things right.
“It was ugly. He made a mistake,” Fenton said. “But I think we’ve got his attention.”
If McGee doesn’t come through he could face a $25,000 penalty and a $500 fine for every day the problem goes unsolved.