Health insurance under review

Ricks wants workers to pay own premiums

Livingston Parish government has paid 100 percent of the health insurance premiums and deductibles for its employees and their families for years, but that may be about to change.

Parish President Layton Ricks said he wants to raise workers’ salaries and give them some responsibility for paying their insurance premiums.

Some council members say they think the parish will lose good workers who have long labored for low wages to gain insurance benefits for their families.

An administration proposal that will go before the Parish Council on Monday night would reduce the amount the parish would pay for workers’ families and would pay only the first half of the deductible for workers and their families, Ricks said.

The combination of reduction in insurance costs to the parish and increase of salaries to workers will result in a 9.5 percent decrease in the combined costs to the parish next year, said Jennifer Meyers, the parish’s finance director.

That comes despite a 12 percent premium increase by Blue Cross, Meyers said.

The administration plans to give workers raises in two phases, but says the total amount of those raises will depend on how much the parish saves by workers dropping insurance coverage for spouses and other dependents when workers face taking over part of the cost of such premiums.

The goal of the raises is to bring Livingston government workers up to the pay rates of their counterparts in comparable jobs in other parishes, Meyers said.

The raises for the coming year will apply to “every full-time employee with the exception of the department heads,” she said.

The size of raises will vary by positions, with an emphasis on helping lower-paid workers whose salaries are most below market value, Meyers said.

If the council approves the insurance proposal, the parish would pay the first $1,500 of a worker’s $3,000 deductible under an individual plan and the first $3,000 of a family’s $6,000 deductible, she said.

A worker would pay $593 a month for a family plan, $320 monthly for a plan that covers the worker and spouse and $272 per month for a plan that covers a worker and children but not a spouse, she said.

Under the plan, the parish would continue to pay insurance premiums for its employees, Meyers said.

Councilman Ronnie Sharp, noting that he stays in close touch with personnel employed in the parish’s Department of Public Works, said he believes the parish could lose good workers as a result of the change.

“They don’t care about the raise,” Sharp said. “They want the insurance.”

People making $10 an hour or less can’t pay $600 a month for health insurance for their families, he said.

“You’re taking a third of their pay,” Sharp said.

They’ll have to find new jobs or drop insurance of their families, Sharp said.

Marshall Harris, chairman of the council’s Finance Committee, also said he is concerned that the reduction in the value of the health benefits package will cause a financial strain on some workers with families even if they get raises.

“I’m afraid we’re going to lose some employees,” he said.

But Harris said he agrees that something has to be done to reduce the amount the parish is paying for rapidly rising insurance costs.

Unfortunately, the percentage that parish government can pay for worker insurance in future years is going to decrease if insurance rates continue to rise at a rate of 12 percent a year, he said.

As insurance costs rise, the parish will be able to pay even less of the premiums for family coverage or will have to get workers to start paying a portion of their personal premiums, Harris said.

“It’s a Band-Aid on a problem that’s going to keep festering,” Harris said of the proposal.

Councilwoman Sonya Collins said she has opposed any increase in insurance costs for workers without corresponding raises.

“These are people who have not gotten a pay raise in years,” she said.

The biggest impact of the current package of insurance and pay-raise plans will be on workers with families, she said.

“I hate to see them have to pay almost $600” a month for family coverage, Collins said of parish workers.

However, given the parish’s budget, something has to be done, she said.

“We inherited this monster, and we have to fix it,” Collins said.

The situation is one that should have been addressed “several years ago,” said Councilman Ricky Goff.

Goff said that in future years, he wants to see workers have health insurance plans with two or three options.

Sam Digirolamo, director of the parish Department of Public Works, said the changes probably would be hardest on the employees “who make $9 or $10 an hour” and have families.

“These people are getting something taken away that they have had all their lives,” he said of the workers’ now-free insurance coverage.

The workers don’t really know right now what their pay increases will be or how that will compare to what they will have to pay for insurance coverage, Digirolamo said.

“I will meet with all my employees Tuesday and give them an update on what is going to happen,” Digirolamo said.