Mitrecic Favors County Changing Retiree Insurance Policy

SNOW HILL – The Worcester County Commissioners agreed to gather more information before making a decision on whether to adjust the insurance coverage offered to new hires.

The commissioners tasked the county’s actuary with determining what savings could be achieved through no longer providing insurance coverage for the spouses or dependents of future retirees. The change would only affect new hires, not the county’s existing employees. Currently, if a person is employed with the county for a minimum of 15 years and retires, the employee and his or her spouse and dependents will continue to receive health insurance coverage through the county.

“This is way too complicated to make a decision right now,” Commissioner Bud Church said.

According to Phil Thompson, the county’s finance officer, potential savings depend on a number of variables, including the cost of healthcare and when a new hire might retire. The current numbers, Thompson said, were based on the assumption that a new hire wouldn’t retire for at least 15 years.

“Again a lot of assumptions and many variables,” Thompson said.

He said that if spouses and dependents of retirees were no longer covered the county would see savings of $34,000 in 2020. Savings would increase in the future however, and are projected to reach $261,000 in 2020 and $458,000 in 2035. Thompson pointed out those numbers were formulated to include board of education employees as well as county government employees.

“Typically on the board of education side we’re seeing people retire prior to 60,” Thompson said. “On the general government side, very few retire before 60. We included everybody in our studies.”

Commissioner Joe Mitrecic said that while the savings were minor at first they would increase dramatically. He said that if the county made the change $18.5 million would be saved between now and 2075.

He does not expect the change to keep people from applying for Worcester County jobs.

“I will tell you that is the same argument I made when the Town of Ocean City decided to change their benefit package,” he said. “Afterward, I realized we hired some of the best employees we’ve ever hired after that.”

He said the county needed to make the change to improve its financial situation.

“This is a decision we have to make so generations from now they’re not looking at healthcare benefits and saying we can’t afford to do this anymore,” he said.

Commissioner Ted Elder pointed out that a lot could change in the next 25 years.

“It’s really trying to look into a crystal ball to see what happens,” he said.

Commissioner Diana Purnell said she wanted to be cautious in making a decision.

“I feel like we need to wait,” she said. “There’s a lot of things involved.”

Commissioner Bud Church agreed and said the choice would be a difficult one.

“This is one of the hardest decisions I’ve made since I became a commissioner,” he said.

At his suggestion, the commissioners agreed to have staff continue to study the issue and come up with potential options, as County Attorney Sonny Bloxom reminded them that they didn’t have to completely eliminate dependent coverage but could offer partial coverage.

“This is not all or nothing,” he said. “You could come up with something in between.”