PASCO — Franklin County public works employees are asking the county to chip in to help pay their skyrocketing health insurance costs in 2011.
Robert Richmond told county commissioners this week that the latest rate increases, which are occurring after the county's current medical provider announced it is going broke, means medical premiums will cost his family $3,000 more in 2011.
Public works employees from the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, Local 874, filed a grievance with the county on Oct. 20, claiming the county hadn't included the union in decision-making on insurance, as required by the union contract.
Union representatives and the commissioners met Wednesday to discuss the issue.
In November, the county found out the Washington Counties Insurance Pool, a self-insurance pool that provides the county's health insurance, would dissolve Jan. 1 after three years in a row in which claims totaled more than premiums paid.
Commissioners decided to go with Washington Counties Insurance Fund for 2011, which is part of the same organization but is a separate group plan offered through Premera Blue Cross.
Commission Chairman Brad Peck said he's not sure what else the county could have done, since June was the deadline for the county to notify the pool that the county would leave the pool in 2011.
As late as August, the county was still being told the estimated loss for the year would be about $2 million, similar to 2008 and 2009, said Rosie Rumsey, county human resources director. The actual loss for 2010 will be closer to $6 million.
Peck said commissioners weren't notified of the pending rate changes until Sept. 22. An e-mail went out to employees on Sept. 27, and open enrollment started Oct. 12.
Richmond, union secretary and treasurer, said the union feels the rate increases in 2009 and 2010 should have been enough to prompt the county to look for new insurance.
He also questioned why the county did not have any inkling that the insurance pool was headed for failure.
Raenette Carle, union vice president, said the $200 deductible plan she and her husband had will go from $149 per month to $962. That means they'll have to move to a $750 deductible plan, which still will cost $256 per month.
Carle said the union needs to be a part of the process and be informed of all changes to insurance that the human resources department learns of.
Richmond asked why commissioners decided to go with the Premera insurance in 2011 rather than shopping for a cheaper option.
Rumsey said with only three weeks before the Dec. 1 deadline to notify the pool that the county would change its insurance, there wasn't time to put together the insurance committee and follow the legally required bid process.
Richmond said with no cost of living increase for 2011 and no increase in the amount the county pays for medical premiums, county employees must pay a substantial increase.
Peck said he thinks the county should help however it can. The question is how much the county can help.
"It's not a good budget year," he said.
The county expects to complete its 2011 budget on Wednesday and still has a $200,000 hole to fill between its estimated expenses and revenues.
In the meantime, the county has assembled an insurance committee, with its first meeting set Tuesday, when the committee will decide on the process for finding insurance, Rumsey said.
The county is stuck with the fund and Premera for at least the first 90 days of 2011, said County Administrator Fred Bowen. The county must give 90 days notice to leave the fund.
"We hope that we can find a better rate out there," he said.