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Health benefit costs rise for non-union county employees

January 6, 2011

Approximately 70 county employees who are not represented by unions or special bargaining groups, such as department heads, will be picking up part of their insurance costs this year as the county attempts to combat state and federal fiscal woes. Employees will only be paying the difference in increased insurance costs. Photo by Mike Gervais

Beginning this week, county department heads and employees who are not represented by unions or special associations will begin paying part of their own health insurance.
The change is a move on the part of county leaders hoping to save money during challenging fiscal times by having about 70 employees pick up the difference of increased insurance costs.
Traditionally, Inyo County has paid the monthly cost of insurance for its employees.
The Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a resolution last month making all affected employees, beginning Jan. 1, responsible for the portion of health insurance premiums that exceed the 2010 premiums.
“Through the budget process the Board of Supervisors has remained committed to maintaining staffing levels despite economic uncertainty and budgetary constraints at the local, state and federal levels,” Labor Relations Administrator Sue Dishion said in a staff report. “Meanwhile, employee benefit costs, including health care costs paid by the county for insuring employees, continue to rise.”
The resolution the board approved Dec. 14 caps the amount of money the county will pay for employees’ insurance. The monthly amount employees will pay depends on the benefit level they have chosen.
Employees who do not have any dependents enrolled in the county health care plan will pay a monthly fee of $43.35; an employee with one dependent will pay $86.90; and an employee who has their whole family enrolled will be paying $112.97.
In addition to the new fees, the county is offering an incentive program for those who have the ability to opt out of county insurance and provide their own coverage.
The resolution also states that the county will continue to pay up to 50 percent of an employee’s annual insurance deductible.
According to Dishion’s staff report, the county is increasing the amount paid to employees for opting out of the county paid health insurance plan.
One county employee who wished to remain anonymous said that the county’s move to reduce its insurance costs is not only expected, but overdue.
That employee said there are more expected changes, as the county currently offers a sick leave buy-back option, which gives employees who have taken less than five days of sick leave the opportunity to sell their sick time back to the county.
According to the resolution, any employee who has taken less than five days of sick leave can receive up to five days of monetary compensation at their hourly rate.
The anonymous county employee said that option may be reviewed in the near future to further cut county costs.
In addition to the new payment schedule, last month’s resolution allows for a two-tier retirement system.
Dishion said the new standards for retirement will allow employees to retire at either 60 years old or 55 years old with the same benefits.
“Again, the goal of introducing a second tier in the retirement system is to cap county costs going forward,” Dishion’s staff report states. “Existing employees will see no reduction in their retirement benefits.”
Dishion said the change to insurance policy will save the county between $25,000 and $30,000 over six months.
“We really appreciate the senior leadership in the county stepping up and assuming responsibility for the increased costs of insurance,” said County Administrative Officer Kevin Carunchio.

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