Union leader says Lexington city workers shouldn't pay more for insurance

Council has to overhaul insurance plan to find $3.5 million in savings

bfortune@herald-leader.comJuly 13, 2011 

Pam Brandenberg, president of the Civil Service Employees Association, which represents 600 Lexington city workers, reacted angrily Tuesday as the Urban County Council began considering how to overhaul the city's health insurance plan, with increased costs to employees sure to come.

The city must quickly find ways to squeeze $3.5 million in savings from the plan, which offers benefits more generous than 99 percent of all public and private insurance systems.

Health insurance consultant Briggs Cochran told council members Tuesday evening that employees of Lexington's Urban County Government pay an average of $1,445 toward their health care each year, compared with $2,832 paid by workers in cities of similar size and $2,885 paid by state workers.

The number of employees covered by the plan fell from 3,538 in 2009 to 3,064 in 2011; still, the plan cost $10 million to $13 million more than was budgeted each of those three years.

Some 89 percent of the city's 3,000 employees are in the city's so-called Platinum plan, which charges no deductible, compared with an average $500 deductible paid by employees in cities of similar size to Lexington. The average state worker pays a $1,000 deductible.

Cochran's firm, Benefit Insurance Marketing, which has been analyzing the city's health plan, will have recommendations to council by Aug. 31 on ways the city can control costs.

Higher premiums and deductibles are a given.

Brandenberg told council members the city's shortfall "cannot be corrected on the backs of civil service employees." Their ranks have been cut as the city has reduced expenses, and employees have received only small, sporadic raises in recent years.

"Of all the personnel of LFUCG, we have borne the deepest cuts," she said. "Year after year, we were put last."

By contrast, public safety employees belonging to unions have received raises and better health insurance benefits. City employees are angry and demoralized because of low salary, job cuts and the very real prospect of higher health insurance costs, Brandenberg said.

Asked after the meeting what the employees she represents would do, since they can't go on strike, Brandenberg said they plan to picket city hall and hold rallies.

Mayor Jim Gray said it was to be expected that there would be "anger, frustration, skepticism and suspicion every step of the way because of the way the city has not been aggressively managing" its health care costs."

"Now we're coming in and dealing with the problems. It's not at all unexpected that we're going to get a lot of challenge," Gray said.

He advised council members that they were going to need "a thick skin" but also good ears to listen to the "anger and frustration as we go through these changes that others have been dealing with before now."

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