Employee Health Care a Budget Wild Card
By Carl Wagenfohr
CLEARWATER - The unmentioned elephant in the room during Monday's Budget Workshop was the cost of employee health care, an issue that has been a budget buster in recent years.
The city's preliminary 2007/08 budget provides $6,200 per employee for health care, $200 less than last year. But according to Human Resources Director Joe Roseto, United Healthcare, the city's current provider, recently proposed a 12-percent rate increase.
The $16,911,000 proposal represented a jump of $1,812,000 over last year, about $1.5-million of that being the city's share. Roseto said that United has been asked to make a proposal having no increase in premiums, with reduced employee benefits and increased co-pays.
The city's health care plan is evaluated by an Employee Benefits Committee, which has been meeting behind closed doors. One member labeled the recent United proposal " a take-away". The committee may opt to open the city's health care contract to competitive bidding if United's proposals remain unattractive.
The Benefits Committee will make its plan recommendation to the City Council in September. Roseto said that at one alternative would likely be a stable cost, reduced benefit package like the one requested of United.
At this time it is not clear if the Council's financial hands will be tied to reducing benefits, or if they will opt to maintain today's rich benefit level by dipping into the premium stabilization fund or using some of the 4.6826 millage rate's $3-million budget surplus.
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