Columbus Council delays decision on employee health-care plan

chwilliams@ledger-enquirer.comOctober 8, 2013 

Columbus Council on Tuesday delayed a decision on raising the costs of employee health insurance, but the two-week delay will likely create a confusing situation for city workers and force them into two open enrollment periods.

Facing a projected $2 million shortfall in health care costs, the city has presented a plan that calls for increasing employee premiums and their out-of-pocket expenses.

The uneasy compromise Tuesday was to start the open-enrollment period for city employees this month with rates and benefits the same as they are then hold another meeting on the health insurance plan in two weeks and do a second open enrollment at a later date with the new options and costs.

City attorney Clifton Fay, despite the delay, advised council it was OK to start the open enrollment period, but if any changes to the plans or costs were made, then the enrollment would have to be reopened.

And it was clear from the more than two-hour discussion there will be changes.

“This is going to be very confusing and frustrating for employees,” Mayor Teresa Tomlinson said after the lengthy meeting. “This is a big decision and council wants to make sure it has all of the information.”

Councilor Mimi Woodson said employees should not take the delay as a sign there would be no change in the plans.

“I don’t want to give employees the impression everything is going to stay the same,” Woodson said. “Because it’s not.”

The delay in a council decision was approved on a 6-3 vote. Councilors Skip Henderson, Mike Baker and Gary Allen voted against the delay. Councilor Red McDaniel was not at the council table at the time of the vote.

In a briefing last month, City Finance Director Pam Hodge and Human Resources Director Reather Hollowell outlined the proposal that had been crafted by the administration and selected from others by the city’s Employee Benefits Committee.

The proposal would raise HMO rates for individuals from $91 a month to $92.80, employee and spouse rates from $195 to $227.20, employee and children from $208 to $211.15 and family rates from $221 to $286.73.

Employees who choose the PPO option would see individual rates drop from $104 a month to $98.87, as would employee plus children rates, from $234 to $218.38, but employee and spouse rates would go from $221 to $234.91 and family rates would rise from $247 to $297.56.

Employees who opt to use the Health and Wellness Center would see rates stay the same as the current HMO rates.

Out-of-pocket expenses would also rise, councilors were told.

HMO out-of-pocket levels would rise from $1,000 per individual and $2,000 per family to $1,500 for individuals and $3,000 per family.

PPO out-of-pocket levels would rise from $2,300 per individual and $4,600 per family to $2,800 per individual and $5,600 per family.

As it became more obvious council might delay a decision on the health insurance plan, Baker said the finance director needs direction on where to assign the health care costs. One topic discussed was taking the money out of the city’s general fund reserves. The other was to assign the costs to the various city departments and forcing those departments to cut their budgets and likely cut personnel.

”One is a bad idea, the other is a worse idea,” Baker said.

Councilor Judy Thomas asked for the delay, saying she would vote against the proposed plan if it came up for a vote Tuesday.

“There is enough concern around this table, for us to make the decision today it will be unanimous — no one will be happy,” Thomas said.

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