After five months of deliberations and public hearings on proposed changes to city employee health insurance plans, Columbus Council voted against the administration’s proposal, then immediately passed an almost identical alternative plan.
Both votes were 6-3, with Councilors Skip Henderson, Mike Baker and Evelyn Turner Pugh voting for the administration’s proposal and Councilors Gary Allen, Pops Barnes, Mimi Woodson, Glenn Davis, Bruce Huff and Judy Thomas voting against it. Councilors Henderson, Baker and Barnes voted against the alternative and the others voted to approve it. Councilor Red McDaniel was absent from the meeting.
The alternative proposal retains the same increases in premiums, out of pocket maximums and co-pays for both HMO and PPO plans and the same deductible for the PPO. The lone difference is a smaller increase in deductibles for the HMO plan, which had been $500 for individuals and $1,000 for families. That was reduced to $400 for individuals and $800 for families, which is still twice what it had been in 2013.
That one change will decrease the city’s annual savings in its health insurance plan by about $371,000, cutting it from about $1.7 million under the administration’s plan to about $1.35 million, according to City Manager Isaiah Hugley.
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Even if the city can enact the plan and hold an open enrollment for employees immediately, the change will have much little impact on this fiscal year’s growing health care deficit, Hugley said. The current health insurance deficit is $2.1 million and by the end of the fiscal year it would be as high as $3 million, and it won’t be solved without something giving, he said.
“At some point, something’s got to give,” Hugley said. “It’s not going away, and we’re not covering it. It’s got to come from somewhere, and we’re got to figure out where it comes from.”
Henderson explained his opposition to the alternative plan by suggesting that, while it’s laudable to look out for city employees, it’s the taxpayers who put councilors in office.
“My only recourse is to go back to the people who asked me to vote their wishes and to watch their money and to tell them, ‘I’m going to need more money because I’m going to have to absorb some of these costs,’” Henderson said. “So I will vote against the recommendation.”
Councilor Mike Baker also opposed the alternative and reminded councilors that they have been talking about the inevitability of making tough budget decisions since the Great Recession started to eat into city tax revenues and the city decided to avoid layoffs at all costs.
“We talked openly at budget meetings that there would be trade-offs, there would be consequences, whether it would be a flattening of salaries or flattening of benefits,” Baker said. “I think we are where we are because of planning, not by chance. That’s why I so strongly supported the recommendations from the administration.”
Glenn Davis, who introduced the alternative proposal, warned city employees that the issue of rising health insurance costs isn’t going to go away.
“I think it’s important that we let the employees know that this is not the end of this,” Davis said. “We’re probably going to be back at this again next year.”
Hugley stressed to employees that council in effect didn’t vote down the administration’s proposal as much as it just tweaked it.
“The important message that I want to convey is to employees who might be thinking, ‘They just voted it down and our premiums aren’t going to change and our copays are not going to change, and we’re good to go,’” Hugley said. “Council only adjusted it by about $300,000, and there will be change.”
The new plan will raise HMO rates for individuals from $91 a month to almost $93, employee and spouse rates from $195 to $227, employee and children from $208 to $211 and family rates from $221 to $286.
Employees who choose the PPO option will see individual rates drop from $104 a month to about $94, as would employee plus children rates, from $234 to $218, but employee and spouse rates would go from $221 to $235 and family rates would rise from $247 to $297.
HMO Out of pocket maximums will rise from $1,200 for individuals and $2,400 for families to $1,500 and $3,000. HMO deductibles will double from $200 for individuals and $400 for families to $400 and $800. HMO copays will rise from $20 for individuals and $30 for families to $30 and $40.
In the PPO plan the out of pocket maximum will rise from $2,300 for individuals and $4,600 for families to $2,800 and $5,600. Deductibles will go from $300 and $600 to $500 and $1,000. Copays will rise from $20 and $30 to $30 and $40.