Pima County is moving to a self-insurance model for its employees' health benefits, which could save taxpayers money in the long run.

The program is expected to cost $46.4 million in the 2013-14 fiscal year.

The projected costs under a self-insured plan will be about 2 percent higher than this year's costs, County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry said in a memo.

The costs were rising much faster under the existing benefits plan, including an 18 percent increase this year over last year, he said.

Most county workers have a high-deductible health plan and a health savings account, and most won't see changes in rates or providers under the new plan.

The Board of Supervisors this month approved a contract with Aetna Life Insurance Co. to administer the medical, pharmacy and employee assistance programs.

It also approved a contract with Symetra Inc. for stop-loss protection against an extreme case where annual claims exceed 20 percent of expected claims, until a reserve fund is built up and the county can protect itself against such an unlikely spike in claims.

The board also established the Pima County Healthcare Benefits Trust with a loan from the county's general fund, which will be repaid with interest.

And they named a board of trustees to oversee the trust fund. The trustees are Northern Trust Bank vice president Henry Boice, former YWCA Tucson executive director Janet Marcotte, retired Raytheon Missile Systems executive Patricia Taylor and physician Neil West, who also chairs the Tucson Unified School District Employee Benefits Trust Board.

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Contact reporter Becky Pallack at bpallack@azstarnet.com or 573-4346. On Twitter @BeckyPallack.