After approving a controversial element of Mayor Teresa Tomlinson’s fiscal 2015 budget that would eliminate health insurance for spouses of city employees who have access to insurance at their workplace, Columbus Council is considering amending that decision.
Councilors will hold a first reading/public hearing Tuesday morning on an ordinance that would offer those spouses access to the city’s health insurance plan, but at a charge of about $371 a month. That surcharge would be in addition to the regular premiums, which were raised from fiscal 2014 levels to avoid a multi-million dollar health care deficit such as the city faced last fiscal year.
The monthly HMO plan premium for an employee and spouse (who has no access to health insurance) is $274. The monthly rate with the surcharge for a spouse with access to insurance would be $646. Employees taking the PPO option would see premiums of $253 rise to $625 and those using the city’s health clinic would see premiums rise from $230 to $602 a month.
Councilor Glenn Davis, who bringing the ordinance to council, said because the ordinance would be revenue neutral, he is confident that it will pass.
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“It’s a no-brainer,” Davis said. “It’s the right thing to do to offer employees an option. It’s not putting a burden on the plan.”
Davis said the city used past experience to calculate how much the surcharge would have to be to make it revenue neutral. If the spouse can find insurance for less than the $371 a month, that’s fine, Davis said. But this ordinance allows spouses whose alternative might cost more than $371 an option to stay with the city while still maintaining the cost savings to the city.
“We need to continue to evaluate our benefits plan,” Davis said. “If were not able to give them raises because the revenue coming into the city isn’t sufficient, the benefits package is all we have left to give them.”
Muscogee County Sheriff’s Maj. Randy Robertson, who is president of the Columbus chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police, has been a frequent and vocal critic of rising health insurance costs for public safety and general government employees.
Robertson recently posted a notice on the FOP’s Facebook page, urging city employees to contact members of Council and voice their opinions on the proposed ordinance and to attend the public hearing Tuesday as well.
“The FOP has been very vocal concerning the stagnant wages, low morale and limited focus on healthcare costs that has decreased CCG employees’ net pay over the past few years,” Robertson wrote. “Columbus Councilors approve all budget decisions and health care costs, so if you wish to be heard, I encourage you to reach out to those elected to serve the taxpayers of Columbus.”
The proposed ordinance would also apply to pre-65 retired city employees, whose health insurance is subsidized to a lesser extent than employees. Pre-65 retired employees’ HMO premiums for employee and spouse would rise from $504 a month to $876, if the spouse has access to insurance but wants to remain on the city plan. PPO premiums would rise from $484 to $855 and city clinic premiums would rise from $460 to $832.
If the ordinance fails to pass, employees and prep-65 retired employees whose spouses have access to insurance with their employer will be ineligible for city insurance beginning Jan. 1, 2015.
Council meets Tuesday at 9 a.m. in its chambers on the second floor of the City Services Center off Macon Road.