Columbus council employees speak out against absorbing health care increases

mowen@leddger-enquirer.comJanuary 7, 2014 

Columbus Councilors heard several city employees speak out against absorbing a 25 percent share of increased health care costs during a public hearing Tuesday evening at the City Service Center.

They also heard city Finance Director Pam Hodge say that the increase would be less than $1.50 per paycheck for two-thirds of the approximately 2,200 city employees on the insurance plan.

The employees, all Public Safety workers, told council that health care cost increases are placing a growing burden on family budgets.

Bill Thornton, a Columbus police officer, told councilors that he promised Chief Ricky Boren when he was hired that he wouldn't seek a job with another department. But he said he believes the city hasn't kept its part of the "contract" by constantly increasing health care costs. He also feared that, with the city constantly increasing benefit costs, more officers will look for work in other cities.

"We're becoming a training ground for other police departments," Thornton said.

Thornton's wife, Wendy, also a Columbus Police Department employee, said it's not just about the increased premium, but it's also about higher deductibles and co-payments. Regardless of whether the bite out of the paycheck is small, those other increases hurt family budgets, too, she said.

Sheriff's Maj. Randy Robertson, who is also president of the local Fraternal Order of Police, said the Consolidated Government and council should sit down with city employees, both Public Safety and general government, and work out ways to address the city's projected $6.5 million deficit.

"We have to sit down together, check our egos at the door, and come together and work out viable solutions," Robertson said. "I hate to say it, but if those viable solutions mean a department goes away, that an individual goes away, that an executive position, a director, goes away … then that's what we do. But we don't wait 'till there's a deficit to make those decisions."

Robertson also asked council to consider a report that the FOP had put together with input from city employees and taxpayers that outlines budget cutting proposals.

Tuesday's meeting was the first of three public hearings on how the city will address rising health care costs. They will hold similar hearings on Jan. 21 and 28, then on Feb. 11 they will vote on whether the city will absorb the entire increase or divide it by the 75-25 percent ratio that is used on premiums.

Mayor Teresa Tomlinson administration's 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.

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.

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