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BURMASTER WILL SELECT ALL FIVE FOR HEALTH PANEL

A five-member committee to study the future of Niagara County's employee health benefits will be chosen by the County Legislature chairman, not the Niagara Business Alliance.

The Legislature amended a resolution creating the committee last week by deleting the business group as the entity choosing three of the five members.

The three are supposed to be citizens with expertise in the health insurance field. The other two are to be legislators, one from each party. All will be picked by Chairman Clyde L. Burmaster.

The Legislature is considering whether to stay with Nova Healthcare, which has been the company administering the county's self-insured employee health plan since 1996, or hire Flexcare of Niagara Falls to supervise the seeking of new bids.

Legislator Bradley E. Erck, D-Lockport, said the Niagara Business Alliance's involvement would have been "a blatant conflict of interest."

He said the business alliance's immediate past president, Paul J. Kolkmeyer, is also chief banking officer at First Niagara Financial Group, the parent company of Nova.

Kevin Schuler, executive director of the business alliance, said Nova also has a seat on its board of directors.

"We were not looking to be an appointing authority and we didn't seek to be," Schuler said. "We have no problem being eliminated from that resolution. Any hint that we had an ulterior motive is patently false."

He said the alliance will feel free to make suggestions about the health insurance issue, as it does on other county matters.

The business alliance was suggested as the selector of the health experts at a meeting of the legislature's Human Resources Committee earlier this month, where the plan for the study panel was hatched.

Rodger D. Smith, county risk and insurance coordinator, said he had vetoed one name suggested by the business alliance because of a conflict of interest. He did not identify the person.

The county spent $8 million on its employee health plan in 2000. Nova collected $231,000 as an administrative fee.

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