The Jefferson Parish Council grilled parish officials on Wednesday over their decision to switch insurance providers for public employees, a move that apparently caused deductibles and other health care costs to rise dramatically.

The parish switched from Coventry Health Care to United Healthcare effective Jan. 1, and since then employees have complained that the new plan is costing them far more in out-of-pocket expenses.

Council President Chris Roberts said the council was led to believe the plans were “pretty much the same, but we’re now understanding that’s not the case.”

He cited one case where an employee saw a deductible that would have been $40 under the old plan jump to $200.

Roberts said that while some parish employees may be able to handle the increase, “for some people, this is not an easy thing to deal with.”

“I’m not happy with the fact that we missed this,” he said.

The $21 million plan has 2,800 participants, including employees of the parish, the court system, the district attorney and the Coroner’s Office.

Peggy Barton, the parish’s director of human resources management, estimates there are about 5,000 total participants when family members are included.

She told the council Wednesday that her office has been meeting with United to work out the problem.

One solution, she said, is to switch employees from the Advantage Prescription Drug List to the Traditional Prescription Drug List, which will put another 270 prescription drugs onto its lowest-cost tier.

This change should take two or three weeks, Barton said, but she noted that United will search its database for drug purchases already made by parish employees that will qualify under the new plan and reimburse them the difference.

She also said retailers offer their own prescription discounts, and that she will look into collecting all available offers to help people find out where they can get certain drugs at a competitive cost.

She estimated 95 percent of the drugs that were on United’s more expensive tier were available at retail discount somewhere.

Asked by Councilman Ben Zahn whether these adjustments would clear up all the problems, Barton cautioned that it’s unlikely everyone will be happy, even if the vast majority of issues can be taken care of.

Roberts said it’s not just the pharmacy plan, that even the deductibles on certain procedures are much higher. Barton said she would look into the matter.

Roberts, West Jefferson’s at-large councilman, said the amount of money the parish saved with the switch — about $1.7 million — should have raised red flags to begin with, given how rarely health care costs actually decline.

Asked how the higher cost could have been overlooked, Barton said the Coventry plan included a list of drugs with a $3 co-pay that wasn’t in its proposal and which administrators with the parish and United were unaware of.

Chief administrative assistant Andrew Maestri defended the procurement process used in making the decision to switch providers, saying it’s the same one that has been in place since 2004 without ever running into problems.

Roberts, however, said Coventry reached out to the council and indicated there was an aspect of their plan that was not being considered, but the council declined the offer to talk after getting an assurance from the administration that it was on top of the particulars.

Roberts said it was a shame for the parish to squander the goodwill of parish employees, who were able to get raises in this year’s budget, by appearing to take it right back from them in the form of higher health care costs.

Follow Chad Calder on Twitter, @Chad_Calder.