The leaders of two organizations that represent employees of the Columbus Consolidated Government offered differing reactions Tuesday to a proposed ordinance that would allow spouses of employees who have health insurance available through their employer to remain on the city’s health plan.
Michael Burgess, an employee of the city’s engineering department and interim chairman of the relatively new General Government Employees Association of Columbus (GGEAC), told Columbus Councilors that members of his organization oppose the ordinance.
“Council voted to exclude those spouses, but now they’re reconsidering that decision and considering allowing those spouses back on the plan for the surcharge,” Burgess said. “Our position at this time is to go with what council voted on as part of the budgeting process. If they have employer-provided health care available to them, they should take advantage of it.”
Randy Robertson, a Muscogee County Sheriff’s major and president of the local Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), called the ordinance a “band-aid,” but said at least it would offer city employees an option they wouldn’t otherwise have.
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“I understand that they want to save on those spouses who have insurance available somewhere else, and I appreciate (Councilor) Glenn Davis offering a solution,” Robertson said. “But I think it’s bad that we have to come back after passing the large changes in the budget and start putting band-aids on it to try to make it function.”
The ordinance, brought to Council by Davis, would address one element of health care reform that council approved in Mayor Teresa Tomlinson’s fiscal 2015 budget, passed in late June. The reform, which is expected to save the city over $1.3 million annually, removes employee spouses who have access to employer-provided health insurance through their employer from the city’s plan.
Davis’ proposed ordinance would allow those spouses access to the city’s plan, but only with a $371 surcharge. The ordinance would be ostensibly revenue neutral because the surcharge covers the projected cost of each spouse. It was arrived at by dividing the projected savings by the number of employee spouses who have access to insurance (306).
In effect, the city employee would be paying even more than the surcharge should the ordinance pass and he or she opt to keep the spouse on the plan. Using the HMO rate, an employee insuring only himself or herself would pay about $146 a month, while an employee plus an eligible spouse would pay about $274. Should the first employee opt to enroll his spouse, the $371 would be added not to his single rate, but to the higher employee plus spouse rate, totaling $645, about $500 more than the individual rate.
But even with that employee and spouse paying almost $7,750 a year in premiums, that still leaves the self-insured city responsible for a potentially catastrophic illness of a person it should not have to be responsible for, Burgess said, explaining his group’s opposition to the ordinance.
“It has to do with exposure,” Burgess said. “If a spouse opts to come back onto the plan and pay the $500, if they have some kind of significant health issue, it should be the responsibility of their employer to cover it, and not the city. It’s just an issue of exposure.”
Davis defended his proposed ordinance, asking Burgess why city employees would object to having another option to take advantage of, especially when it is designed to be revenue neutral.
“Why would you oppose an option for spouses to have access to coverage?” Davis asked. “Look, I’ve got your best interest at heart here. I’m trying to help you. It doesn’t affect me either way.”
Tuesday’s hearing was part of the first reading of the ordinance, so no action was taken. The ordinance will be brought back for a second reading and vote at council’s Aug. 26 meeting.