(White Plains, NY) – The Westchester County Board of Legislators Special Committee on Health Insurance Savings presented their final recommendation for a health insurance proposal that would require all non-represented County employees make a contribution towards their care.  The recommendation has been sent to the Board’s Committee on Budget & Appropriations for a complete fiscal analysis prior to a vote by the full Board.  Chaired by the Board’s Vice-Chairman, Legislator Lyndon Williams (D-Mount Vernon) and the Board’s Majority Whip, Legislator Judy Myers (D-Larchmont), the Committee’s initial goal was to reach out to stakeholders who would be most affected by changes in the existing county plan as well as persons with knowledge and expertise on the proposed changes. If adopted, this proposal will take effect on July 1, 2010. “This legislation is intended to be a first step towards phasing-in the equitable contributions toward health care by all County employees,” said Vice-Chairman Williams. “The Committee moved expeditiously to provide a workable plan that considered all stakeholders in balancing the important need for taxpayer relief while allowing for fairness to county employees,” said Vice-Chairman Williams.

This compromise legislation presented at today’s meeting would require that all elected officials, County officers and officials appointed for a fixed term (flat-rate employees), certain non-represented County employees and retirees to contribute between five per cent (5%) and fifteen (15%) of the overall cost of the premium health insurance. Majority Whip Myers said that “given the scope an dcomplexity of the entire health benefit arena, as well as the need to develop a plan for increased savings now, this interim plan serves as a short-term solution.”  The proposal creates a tier-system of contribution based upon years of service:

Categories of County Employees

Amount of Contribution

All County elected officials (District Attorney, members of the Board of Legislators, County Clerk, County Executive), County officers and officials appointed for a fixed term (Commissioners, Department/Agency heads and flat rate employees)

Fifteen per cent (15%)

All non-represented County employees and retirees who have less than 0 – 5 years of County service

Fifteen per cent (15%)

All non-represented County employees and retirees who have between 5 – 10 years of County service

Ten per cent (10%)

All non-represented County employees and retirees who have between 10 – 20 years of County service

Five per cent (5%)

All non-represented County employees and retirees who have 20+ years of County service

Zero per cent (0%)

Beyond the near-term savings from a revised contributory plan, the committee intends to pursue permanent long-term savings by conducting a comprehensive analysis of all existing plans that would save Westchester taxpayers millions of dollars. Vice-Chairman Lyndon Williams said that the next phase is for the Committee to continue to meet with health insurance professionals and key industry experts to assess and develop a long-term health benefit plan that works best for Westchester County.  “We all agree that the county’s health plan should provide for employees contributions. However, changes to the plan should be implemented in a thoughtful and orderly manner with a view to best quality coverage at the lowest costs.  This cannot be achieved by simply pulling numbers out of a hat that might not materialize in the long run.”

COMMITTEE BACKGROUND

The Committee was established by Board Chairman Ken Jenkins (D-Yonkers) to analyze and make recommendations on the fairest and most cost-effective way for the County to provide quality and affordable health care access to its employees at reduced costs.  The first meeting was held on Saturday, February 6th when the committee agreed on a work plan for coming up with legislation for county employees’ contributions to their health insurance plan.

The committee held another meeting on February 16th, where they brought together Westchester County District Attorney Janet DiFiore, Finance Commissioner Anne Marie Berg and POMCO representatives for input on the fairest and most economically feasible manner the County could achieve some interim savings for taxpayers while continuing to provide its quality coverage to its employees.

The Westchester County District Attorney told the committee that her office will be disproportionately impacted by the County Executive’s proposed plan, which would require to all non-union employees pay 15% of the estimated costs of the County’s insurance expense. The DA pointed that of the 377 of employees affected by the proposed plan, 125 of them are county prosecutors, who have not received even a cost-of-living increase since 2005.  The District Attorney said that while her office was disproportionately impacted, she was not consulted on the County Executive’s proposal.  The District attorney made it clear that she was not opposed to a contributory plan being enacted, given the current economic climate, but would appreciate sensible thoughtful process that considers the unintended consequences that could result.

County Finance Commissioner Ann Marie Berg discussed the existing plan as administered currently by POMCO. She confirmed that contrary to the impression given to the public that county employees do not pay for health insurance coverage, some county employees do pay part of the costs for their health coverage. Berg also clarified on the record that the $22,000 costs of family coverage on which the County Executive’s savings were based is erroneous.  She said that the “$22,000 is the overall cumulative costs of the POMCO family plan, which includes HMO, Medicare Part B, dental and vision plans,” said Commissioner Berg.  According to records, the baseline cost of a family plan that the County pays for health coverage only under the POMCO contract for County employees is only $19,500.

Jennifer Zando, Director of Account Management and Vanessa Flynn, Vice President of Client Services of POMCO briefed the Committee on its current plan with the County.  They explained that Westchester County used to have a fully insured plan with Empire Blue Cross Blue Shield as its insurance carrier. The County determined that it would be more cost-effective for the County to be self-insured. It then changed from Empire to a self-insured plan administered by POMCO as the 3rd party administrator. They informed the Committee that the current plan already contained a ‘working spouse’ exclusion, which prevents a working spouse from using the POMCO plan as a primary source of insurance.

POMCO representatives indicated that they provide the County regular reports on ways to save money on health insurance. The Committee requested copies of the reports be forwarded to the Legislature on a regular basis.  The Committee also requested that POMCO provide a various plan comparisons and recommendations for alternative for non-represented employees.

Click here to view Draft Legislation