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LOCKPORT – Several municipal governments in Niagara County, as well as the county itself, have signed up to take part in a study to determine whether it would be feasible for all of them to join in a single health insurance plan – especially because the study is free.

Somerset Supervisor Daniel M. Engert said the county’s town supervisors chose Arthur J. Gallagher & Co. from among three firms interested in doing the study. The vote was 10-0, with Lewiston and Porter not voting.

“There’s going to be no cost or obligation,” Engert said. He said the Gallagher firm will make its money if the health consortium is eventually formed, because then Gallagher might organize it.

Engert said the localities’ message to the firm is, “You have a great opportunity to prove your mettle here through this (study) process.”

The City and Town of Lockport both signed up for the study at their meetings Wednesday. Others on board include the Niagara County Legislature, the Town and Village of Wilson, and the towns of Newfane and Somerset. Others are expected to take action at their July meetings.

Engert said he’s lining up dates to brief lawmakers in Niagara Falls and North Tonawanda.

“Not one has indicated to me they’re not interested in participating in the feasibility study,” Engert said.

State law requires any health insurance consortium to represent at least 2,000 employees. That makes the county, which approved its participation in the study at a June 24 special meeting, the key “get,” since the county has about 1,400 workers.

Engert said if all 21 local governments signed up, the consortium would have about 4,000 members. “That’s a huge elephant in the marketplace,” he said.

But agreeing to supply data for a free study is a long way from actually voting to take part in a consortium. The study will give each municipality a verdict as to whether the cost of setting up a countywide health insurance fund is worth it for each individual situation.

“Basically, we would be creating our own health care company,” Town of Lockport Supervisor Marc R. Smith said. “There is no downside for the Town of Lockport, and the upside may be controlling our health insurance costs. We’re looking at this as a learning experience.”

Lockport Mayor Anne E. McCaffrey said, “It’s just giving the city the opportunity to opt in.”

The organization of a consortium will require plenty of adjustments, since each government has its own health policy and labor unions with differing contract provisions.

A Gallagher official said last month at a meeting in the Town of Lockport that it took the company six years to set up a consortium involving 19 school districts in Monroe County, which had a total of 130 different union contracts.

Each potential member participating in the feasibility study has been asked to send a representative to the first meeting of the steering committee at 6 p.m. July 22 in Somerset. The ad hoc committee will be converted into a board of directors if the consortium is green-lighted.

email: tprohaska@buffnews.com