Essex County employees face double-digit health care hike

ELIZABETHTOWN Essex County employees are feeling the pinch of increases in their health insurance costs. At the personnel meeting on Nov. 19, Personnel Officer Daniel Palmer discussed the increase in health rates with county officials. The county currently provides health insurance plans for over 400 employees. County employees take hit with rate increases
According to Palmer, rates have increased from 23-25 percent on plans resulting in monthly co-pays for employees from $150-$583, depending on the plan choice. Previously many employees didnt have to ante up matching funds. There has been a fairly substantial jump in the employee share. Based on the formula put into place in 1999, it has begun to shift significantly more of the share to the employees, said Palmer. The biggest hit would be people who were on family health care plans. According to the current county contract, the county pays for the cost of the Empire States plan and up to nine percent of an increase in cost. Anything over that cost depending on which plan the employee selects is the employees responsibility. Moriah Supervisor Thomas Scozzafava said the impact would really hit employees making around $20,000 annually. Its going to reduce the amount of money they take home, said Scozzafava. Westport Supervisor Daniel Connell said some county employees had wondered if pre-existing conditions would penalize them if they switched health care plans. Palmer said that the countys health care plans are community plans, with no preexisting condition clauses. County offers to help offset costs
Palmer said he anticipated being able to help offset some of the costs for employees without affecting the budget, providing there was a shift to some of the less expensive plans. Savings using a new drug program could also be used to help offset the increases. He requested that the board propose a memorandum of understanding to the CSEA the union that represents county employees. Doing so would not re-open contract negotiations the union would have the option to simply accept or decline the offer. Palmer said there was something particular he wanted from the union as part of the package. The time frame to address the issue is tight, since the county is currently purchasing plans for next year. Crown Point Supervisor Dale French wondered if there was a way to have the employee match be a percentage of the employees salary to avoid overburdening lower-paid staff. Palmer said doing so would be complicated, and he hadnt had time to figure out a sliding scale for this year. He added that it was definitely something to investigate for the 2009 contract. Board Chairman Noel Merrihew appointed a labor management committee to come up with an insurance proposal. The proposal will then be sent to the union, which has to hold a vote among its members. If the union approves the proposal, the full county board would have to give the final okay at its regular meeting during December.

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