City's health insurance too generous for taxpayers to bear

It's understandable that Urban County Government employees want to hold onto one of the most generous health insurance plans in the nation.

But complaints and threats of pickets, recently issued from one employee union, are not likely to garner public sympathy.

Employee unions would better spend their time negotiating the least punitive ways to reduce health costs, which have resulted in a $33 million shortfall over the last three years.

That may sound harsh, but so are the times.

The reality: Taxpayers cannot afford the plan. Those lucky enough to be insured are themselves paying much more for the privilege. Most are working harder with pay cuts or fewer pay increases — and usually without a union to look out for them.

City workers shouldn't be unfairly treated. But it makes sense to get employee benefits more in line with other cities — not just for health insurance but in the public-safety pension and disability programs.

Right now, the city is trying to get an immediate $3.5 million in savings from health insurance and make benefit changes for next year. There is considerable room for adjustment.

Health insurance consultant Briggs Cochrans told council members last week that 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. The average state worker pays a $1,000 deductible.

Also, city employees contribute 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 consultant's cost-saving recommendations are due Aug. 31.

The city administration is also currently negotiating with the police and fire unions about reforming their pension system.

The pension fund has a $200-million unfunded liability. In addition, Lexington's police and fire pensions are not sustainable because of easy access to disability payments.

It's encouraging that the Urban County Council recently voted to have a say about contracts with public-safety unions, even though it may not have the legal authority to reject a deal.

Perhaps the council is actually willing to make tough financial decisions — something it did not do during recent budget negotiations.

It's past time to restore soundness to city finances. It can be done in a way that is fair to employees and taxpayers.