Commissioners to pay some of 1 union's health care costs

Franklin County commissioners kept their promise to find a way to help some employees with ballooning health care costs.

Public works employees asked commissioners in December to help with the latest rate increases that happened after the county's medical provider announced it was going broke.

Commissioners unanimously agreed Wednesday to pay $67.75 more a month toward employee health care deductibles for the next six months.

The decision was made after a closed-door session that lasted almost an hour.

Commission Chairman Bob Koch said the addition will help county employees while the county's insurance committee examines other healthcare options.

The county hopes to have a suggestion from the committee within 90 days and the county has to give 90 days notice to leave the Washington Counties Insurance Fund, said County Administrator Fred Bowen.

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 its claims totaled more than premiums paid for three years in a row.

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. Commissioners said they didn't have the time to go through the legal process to find new insurance before the self-insured pool dissolved.

Commissioners only authorized the increase in benefits for public works employees from the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, Local 874.

The county still is negotiating with the county's five other unions concerning benefits, Bowen said.

If all the unions agree to a $67.75 per month increase for medical benefits, Bowen said it will cost the county about $94,000 for six months.

That increase was built into the 2011 budget that commissioners passed last month, he said.

Even with the increase, employees still will be covering some of the costs out of their own pockets, Bowen said.

The public works employees union filed a grievance with the county Oct. 20, claiming the county hadn't included the union in decision-making on insurance, as required by the union contract. So during a discussion with county commissioners, union representatives asked the commissioners to help employees cover the increased costs.

Also Wednesday:

-- Koch was elected the commission's chairman for 2011, and Rick Miller became chairman pro tem.