Health care ‘workshop’ overflows

More than 75 concerned city employees attend

By Mary O. Esparza -

What was described as a simple workshop for city employees drew the attention of a small army of workers concerned about the future of their health care benefits.

A special meeting of the Altus city council was held 6 p.m. Tuesday. The meeting was called to discuss revising the established percentages of employee and retiree health care premiums. The notice read “this is a workshop only; no action or votes will be taken at this time.”

Currently the City of Altus is paying 80 percent of the premium for both single and family coverage of active employees and 45 percent of retiree premiums. This has resulted in a cost to the city about $1.85 million a year. It is now time to renew health insurance for the fiscal year 2017 that begins July 1.

More than 80 concerned city employees were in attendance, and to accommodate space for everyone, the meeting was moved downstairs in the city complex.

Assistant City Manager Matt Wojnowski opened the meeting by saying he worked with Chief Financial Advisor Jan Neufeld and Human Resources Director Angie Murphy and came up with three options to ammend the current health care plan:

* option 1 — change to a four-tier plan

* option 2 — raise the deductible

* option 3 — use Insure Oklahoma as a supplemental insurance plan.

Murphy contacted several other cities and researched the amount their cities paid and the employee paid, and gave council a handout on the numbers.

Several current and retired city employees voiced opinions and their concerns.

“I worked for the city for 18 years and 14 of those years I worked with renewals, and the reason we never went with four tiers was because the premiums would go up,” said Belinda Wilcox, former city employee and retiree. “The plan didn’t work for us because we were not a large enough group.”

“We looked at several different things like separating the retirees from the actives,” Wilcox said. “Blue Cross Blue Shield has already made an increase and by adding more tiers it would be an additional raise. I understand the reasoning for tiers and we always wanted it, but we never felt the city could afford it.”

“We were looking at what was best for our city and our employees and balance that. Human resources always tried to do it not for a specific group or people, but for the city as a whole and what would save the most money and be the best coverage,” Wilcox said. “I feel it’s really bad thing what is going on right now, so in my mind four tiers is not what we need because we have already had an increase.”

“If people cannot afford the plan (Insure Oklahoma), what are they suppose to do?” said Wilcox about Insure Oklahoma. “Most of them will not qualify, because if I recall, everyone was almost right at the poverty level causing them to be in a crunch. And another concern is what will happens to the group? It affects your premium.”

“As you can see there is a great interest here tonight and in layman’s terms, ‘can you tell our city employees is their insurance premium going to rise?’ ” Chief of Police Tim Murphy said. “I think we have an expectation of our city employees that they have some loyalty to our city and I think that city employees have the same expectation from our city — to be the same way — at the very least provide affordable health insurance coverage; and with everything going up and the gas prices fluctuating, take a serious look and do what is right for the employees.”

“We understand that changes and prices could change, but we were just told about all of this yesterday (Monday),” Fire Chief Kyle Davis said. “We do not know about deductibles, co-pays or about payment on medications. We know nothing, but yet soon, at another meeting you’re gonna give away $400,000 to businesses. Yes, it is an issue, what we are asking for is more time to look at everything.”

“If we do change providers, please make sure that our local hospital accepts that type of insurance,” City of Altus employee Kevin English asked council.

According to Angie Murphy, city human resources employees reviewed ETNA, United Healthcare and 16 other insurance plans before arrived at the recommended options.

The meeting continued, but council members decided there were not enough details provided to make an informed decision at the present time.

All decisions must be made prior to approving the budget for fiscal year 2017 and that final budget meeting is scheduled for Tuesday.

No action was taken on employee health care benefits and the meeting was adjourned.

More than 75 concerned city employees attend

By Mary O. Esparza

Reach Mary O. Esparza at 580-482-1221, ext. 2077.

Reach Mary O. Esparza at 580-482-1221, ext. 2077.

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