HOWLAND TOWNSHIP Administration-labor cooperation saves money

Township workers got educated about health insurance costs.
HOWLAND -- While most private businesses and governments are fighting rising medical insurance costs, Howland Township has seen a decrease through administration-labor cooperation.
From September 2003 through August 2004, when the township was self-insured, it paid $687,133 for employee health, life and dental coverage, according to township records.
From September 2004 through the end of August, it will have paid Anthem Blue Cross-Blue Shield $550,090, or a savings of $137,043.
If the township were to renew its agreement for another year with Anthem, the premium would be $605,993.
Township Administrator Darlene St. George said Monday that the administration and unions are working to maintain the $550,090 premium.
"We're going to give it a good hard try," St. George said.
Through Wednesday, administrators and representatives of three employee unions will have heard proposals from eight insurance brokers, most representing multiple carriers, to keep the cost at the $550,090 level.
Broker proposals
The 67 full-time employees are represented by the Ohio Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, International Association of Firefighters Local 2786 and Howland Township Road Department Employees Association.
The union employees have the same coverage as the 15 nonunion workers.
St. George explained that she invited union members three years ago to hear broker proposals because the employees were familiar with the benefits, but not the costs.
In addition, she noted, there was skepticism by union members toward the administration because they believed nonunion members might be receiving added benefits.
The union members, St. George said, began to educate themselves about insurance coverage after being brought in to hear the proposals. "Everybody became smarter," she asserted.
The administrator pointed out that the management-labor group realized it was paying for some benefits that only a handful of its members were using.
"They [seldom used benefits] were eating up the cost," she said.
By making adjustments in prescription coverage and deductibles, she said, the premium was reduced and all township employees didn't have to contribute to the coverage.
Adversarial relationship
Police Sgt. Richard Emerson, OPBA local director, said the relationship with the administration was adversarial when it came to insurance coverage.
That has been resolved, Emerson and St. George agreed, because the issue of coverage is worked out before they go to the bargaining table.
"They have to come up with a product that satisfies us," Emerson said of the brokers. "We're looking to maintain the savings."
"You don't have animosity. It's something you don't find elsewhere," said the 35-year police veteran.
"They trust our judgment and we trust theirs," Emerson added.
Paul Monroe has seen the issue of insurance coverage from both sides -- as an OPBA member from 1985 to 2003, when he was named police chief.
"I like it," Monroe said of the union involvement.
"Everybody has a common goal" in getting the best insurance, he asserted. "Working together helps our community too."

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