City to take another shot at insurance plan

ALBANY — Albany City Commissioners rejected two employee health benefit plan proposals at a special called meeting Tuesday morning, deciding instead to table the measure until the city’s insurance broker provides more information.

Ward IV Commissioner Roger Marietta’s motion to accept a proposal that would require employees to pay $248,690 of some $3.1 million in additional insurance costs projected for their 2014 group health plan, with a stipulation that the city pay down some of the 34 percent cost increase projected for under-65 retirees, died for lack of a second. Ward II Commissioner Ivey Hines’ motion that the commission accept a proposal that would have employees who are covered under a base plan pay none of the additional cost — with Marietta’s “friendly amendment” that staff look into a more equitable percentage paid by the under-65 retirees — failed to get the required four votes, ending in a 3-3 tie.

Ward VI Commissioner Tommie Postell was not at the meeting.

“We can’t keep taking from our folks and giving them nothing back,” Hines said before offering his motion. “Those folks are working from diminishing returns.”

City Human Resources Director Henry Cohen and Finance Department Accounting Manager Jo Brophy, along with insurance broker Scott Hankins of the Cartersville ShawHankins firm, discussed four options for commissioners to consider. The options ranged from a plan that would require employees covered under the policy’s base plan to pay no increases to one that would have employees pay $1.2 million of some $3.1 million in additional costs.

Cohen said $160,000 in new costs, or $23 per employee, spouse or child, are built into the plan as part of the Affordable Care Reform Act.

“(The options) are an end product of a project we started in June,” Cohen told commissioners. “The cost for our group plan for 2014 is estimated to be $14.7 million, well above the $11.7 million we had projected. We’ve come up with a three-pronged plan to mitigate those costs:

— Drive costs out through our wellness center, through disease prevention measures and through claims audits;

— Modify our plan design by limiting services and adjusting benefits;

— Evaluate employee/employer cost share.”

Plan 1A, outlined by Brophy and championed by Hines, offers the least amount of employee contributions to the health plan with no new costs for base plan participants. Plan 1B, suggested by Marietta, calls for $248,690 of the cost increase to come from employees, Option 1 $476,566, and Option 2 $1.2 million.

Mayor Dorothy Hubbard chided staff for bringing the options to the commission two months into the current fiscal year, but City Manager James Taylor said there was little option.

“It bothers me that we’re two months into the fiscal year, and we find there’s an additional $1.2 million we’re talking about adding to the budget,” Hubbard said. “If we’d known this was coming, we could have made some different decisions during the budget process.”

Taylor said much of the data used to come up with the options suggested by staff was not available until as late as May.

“We’ve tried to present to you the most reasonable and plausible options we can afford, based on the data we have,” the city manager said. “Any kind of projections like these are best-guess, and we tried to get the latest data possible.

“Health care and retirement will be a problem to the city forever. Any of these plans we do, we’re going to have to dip into our reserves. But at the end of the day, no matter what share of the cost increases we pay or employees pay, we’re still going to have to write the check.”

Ward I Commissioner Jon Howard suggested the possibility of “biting the bullet” and keeping employee contributions to the plan at the current level for another year. Brophy said that would cost the city — and, ultimately, taxpayers — an additional $3.9 million.

“Can we do what you’re suggesting? Yes,” Taylor said to Howard. “Do I recommend it? No, sir.”

Ward III Commissioner Christopher Pike said the board was not taking enough of a “big-picture” approach.

“Nobody seems to be thinking about 2018 (when Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia credits stop coming in),” Pike said. “We have to come up with a plan to get insurance under control, and it may come down to having a certain level of insurance or having a job. Lots of cities are going bankrupt because of pension and health care plans.”

Taylor tentatively set another called meeting for noon on Sept. 11 to discuss the plan further.

At a work session held after the called meeting, the commission voted to install three-way stop signs at the Bay Hill/Glenn Eagle Drive and Palmer Road/Glenn Eagle intersections to slow traffic that nearby neighborhood watch president Bob Hutchinson called “like the Indiana 500.” Commissioners also tentatively OK’d a special event ordinance that will require groups planning special outdoors events in the city to obtain a permit and insurance.