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Nov 18, 2008 5:32 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press

Union rejects East Hampton Town medical coverage proposal

Nov 18, 2008 5:32 PM

East Hampton Town’s Civil Service employees resoundingly rejected a recent proposal to adjust the town’s medical plan to save the town money on benefits costs. The result has been the town probably will give up its self-insurance program as too expensive and seek coverage through Empire Blue Cross/Blue Shield, something that employees have opposed.

At a union meeting on November 13, the membership voted 128 to 23 to reject a proposal from Island Group, the town’s self-insurance administrator, that potentially would have saved the town as much as $2 million in 2009, according to Supervisor Bill McGintee.

The rejection likely means that Mr. McGintee once again will ask the Town Board to approve a proposal switching town employees’ medical coverage to an insurance program offered by the state-administered Empire Blue Cross/Blue Shield—an idea the board ultimately rejected the last time he brought it up.

The president of the town’s employees union chapter, John J. Kremm, said this week that if the town goes forward with the switch to Empire, the union will renew a grievance filed last spring and restart an arbitration process that was put on hold when the town rescinded the initial Empire proposal. An arbitration officer has already been chosen by attorneys for the union and the town.

Mr. Kremm said the union believes that wording in the five-year contract between the town and the Civil Service Employees of America (CSEA) does not allow the town to make the switch.

“The members feel strongly that we voted on this contract and that it included the insurance and that’s what we want to keep,” Mr. Kremm said. “I don’t believe that changing the Island Group plan was going to solve this matter.”

Town employees pay a $8 co-pay per doctor’s visit with no co-pay for related follow-up visits. Switching to the proposed Empire plan would push the co-pay to $18 a visit and require a co-pay for additional related visits to specialists. The Empire plan would also introduce a co-pay for some prescription medication that employees currently don’t pay for at all and raise other medication costs slightly.

While only 251 town employees are members of the CSEA, their contract dictates the medical coverage extended to all of the town’s more than 500 employees.

Supervisor McGintee has said that going with an Empire plan would guarantee a nearly $2 million savings from the estimated costs of the town’s current self-administered plan. The town’s 2009 budget, approved on Tuesday evening, included $6.9 million for medical benefit costs for the town’s more than 500 employees—based on the cost of the Empire coverage plan for 2009. In 2007, the town’s self-insurance plan with Island Group cost about $8.9 million. Estimates for 2008 are about $8.2 million.

On Tuesday, board members agreed that the union vote had left them with only two options: switching to the Empire plan or putting another $2 million into the 2009 budget to cover the potential costs. The town has overspent its budget for medical coverage each of the last four years by as much as $4 million a single year, which has contributed to the ballooning budget deficit. The CSEA contract says that the town may switch to the Empire package that most closely resembles the coverage provided by Island Group if it brings the town significant cost savings, according to Mr. McGintee.

“We gave them a year,” Councilman Brad Loewen said of the CSEA on Tuesday. “They did this to themselves.”

Last winter, board members approved a resolution authorizing the supervisor to consider switching to Empire. But after the union filed a grievance, some board members said they had been unaware of the meaning of the resolution and voted to rescind it. The union put their grievance on hold and both sides appealed to Island Group president Alan Kaplan to develop a plan that would allow the town to save money without making the switch to Empire.

“We gave them an option,” Councilwoman Pat Mansir said. “We have a budget that’s $2 million higher than it should be. We asked them if they would help us. We waited a year and what do we got? We got nada. That really stinks because Alan Kaplan has been good to us. I thought the union thought that too.”

Mr. Kaplan told the town earlier this fall that he was confident that he could offer coverage on a par with Empire’s for even less than the $6.9 million cost for the state plan and that he could offer better coverage for the same amount.

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Did anyone check who had the correct numbers? Was it McGintee or Kaplan?
I am just as disappointed in the fact that the workers are being hurt because the town board (some of who most of us really like) didn't see that the medical coverage was underbudgeted for years. Lowen said "We gave them a year, they did this to themselves." NO, they did not you did it to them by not making sure your Supervisor budgeted the correct amount. It is not the employees job to make sure money is in the budget ...more
By disappointed (96), wainscott on Nov 19, 08 5:53 PM
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