Contra Costa County Public Employee Health Care Costs Increasing
The cost of providing health care benefits for Contra Costa County public employees and retirees has increased by 130% since 2000 and will reach an estimated $82 million next year, the Contra Costa Times reports. Health care benefit costs next year will account for about 7% of the county general fund, compared with about 4% of the fund in fiscal year 2000-2001.
Contra Costa County employees who have been employed by the county for a minimum of 10 years are eligible for lifetime health benefits beginning at age 50. The county offers public employees a choice of four health benefit plans. The largest number of workers and retirees participate in the Contra Costa Health plan, for which the county pays 98% of premiums and employees pay no copayments for most services, including lab work, routine physicals, emergency department care and prescription drugs.
Other plans require varying copayments, and the county pays between 80% and 90% of costs.
County Auditor Steve Ybarra said that premiums will increase by 20% annually for an indefinite period if the county maintains benefits at the current levels.
The county has not determined the long-term cost of providing health care for past and current employees, as required by new state accounting standards that have not yet taken effect. County administrators plan to present estimates to the county Board of Supervisors this summer.
Supervisor John Gioia said that the county's health care costs could be reduced if employees agreed to pay a greater share of the costs.
Lori Gentles, acting county human resources director, said, "The rich benefits didn't create our health care problems," adding, "There are larger societal issues at work."
Roland Katz -- an attorney for Public Employees Union Local 1, the county's largest union -- said, "All labor and management can do is beat each other up over rising costs." He said that a national strategy to address health care costs is needed, adding, "Local solutions are just a Band-Aid" (Felsenfeld, Contra Costa Times, 5/22).
County costs for employee health care benefits "are surging out of control and eating up more and more of the budget," a Times editorial states. "An important connection must be made here," the editorial states, adding that maintaining "the lavish benefits" packages offered to county employees "has a direct cost in terms of loss of services."
The editorial concludes, "This county, and other public agencies, must rein in the benefits it grants to employees so that the government can offer the services to the public that it was meant to provide" (Contra Costa Times, 5/24).