Health insurance coverage for public employees has become the rallying cry of proponents of smaller, less costly government because of the perception among private sector taxpayers that the recipients are not bearing enough of the cost. And, when that perception turns out to be reality, as in the case of Boardman Township, the reaction is one of anger.
When a recent Vindicator news story revealed that the current health insurance plan provides 100 percent coverage, does not require recipients to pay a deductible and costs government — read that the taxpayers — $2.2 million a year, residents wasted little time voicing their disapproval. In the private sector workplace, employees have had to bear a greater share of rising health insurance premiums and the cost of health care, which is why there is little sympathy for public sector workers who do not pay their fair share.
Aware of residents’ discontent with most things government and of the reality that the township cannot keep absorbing the ever-increasing cost of health insurance, Boardman trustees Thomas Costello, Larry Molitero and Brad Calhoun, along with Administrator Jason Loree, want to implement changes that would enable township government to seek competitive bids, thereby reducing the cost. As it is, a 20 percent increase is projected, which translates into a whopping $400,000 to come out of the operating fund.
In order to involve all the stakeholders in government, trustees appointed an insurance committee to adopt a design-change plan. Representatives from each of the four unions, along with the administrator, fiscal officer and a nonunion employee, have had meetings and have voted twice on the changes to the current plan. Both votes went down to defeat.
That has prompted Costello to issue a stern warning: If the committee refuses to let the trustees make changes to the design of the health insurance plan, he and his colleagues will not place a 3.85-mill, five-year additional levy for the police department on the May ballot.
The deadline for the trustees passing a resolution for the ballot issue is March 1.
The insurance committee is scheduled to meet Friday, at which time another vote is expected. Members have been provided with facts and figures to assist them in making a learned decision.
Loree has said the township has been evaluating its current plan offered by Medical Mutual against other possible options, such as deductibles ranging from $100 to $2,000 from other companies.
“We are gathering the health care plans to show the additional savings by adopting one plan over another,” Loree told The Vindicator. “We had a 20 percent increase last year, and we want to work down 20 percent to zero by changing the plan design.”
While the stance adopted by the trustees — a change in insurance in return for a police levy being on the ballot — may appear to be an unfair labor practice; it isn’t. Boardman Township government cannot afford the status quo, and the employees must be prepared to bear more of the financial burden for health insurance and the other benefits they receive.
Such concessions have been a reality in the private sector even before the national recession began in late 2008.