County Must Reduce Workers’ Insurance Costs
Sacramento County must address the costs of county workers' health insurance premiums immediately, or the county might find it difficult to offer competitive wages in the future, according to county chief negotiator Steve Lakich, the Sacramento Bee reports.
Earlier this decade, Lakich negotiated a contract with 7,500 county workers that required them to pay 20% of their health insurance premiums, with the county paying 80%. However, 4,000 workers chose to retain fully paid benefits, and stalled negotiations have led to a strike.
Under the county's proposal, workers would pay $185 monthly for family health coverage through a basic Kaiser Permanente HMO, and the county would pay $928 per month.
Lakich notes that, "In 1998, that full (rate) was just $416. At this rate, if we don't do something now, the Kaiser rate will be $1,500 a month in the next five years."
Some Sacramento County workers have foregone wage increases in the past to retain 100% health benefits.
Bill Harper, president of a union representing probation officers, said, "These are things that were given to us a couple of contracts back in lieu of a raise. And now they want to take them away?"
The Bee reports that increased cost-sharing for employer-sponsored health benefits is a growing trend in California and the nation (Srivastava, Sacramento Bee, 9/15).
Sacramento County's proposal to increase over five years union members' contributions to their health benefits coverage to 20% and hold insurance cash-out provisions at 2006 levels "makes sense," Ginger Rutland, associate editor and editorial board member for the Bee, says in a commentary on Capital Public Radio's "KXJZ News" on Friday.
According to Rutland, county workers hired before 1998 who obtain health care coverage through a spouse "actually benefit from rising health care costs" because they may keep the county's unspent contribution -- amounting to more than $900 per month in some cases -- and receive larger pensions. "By sticking to its guns against the strikers, the county is doing what it needs to ... to control costs and provide basic fairness to the vast majority of its workers whose health care costs are rising," Rutland concludes (Rutland, "KXJZ News," CPR, 9/15).
The complete transcript of the commentary is available online. Audio of the commentary is available online in Windows Media.