County Exploring Dependent Health Coverage Options

SNOW HILL – The Worcester County Commissioners continue to consider changes to benefits for future employees.

The commissioners agreed this week to schedule a work session to discuss changes to the coverage offered to employee dependents and spouses upon the employee’s retirement. As it stands now, the county is set to pay 80 percent of dependent healthcare costs upon the retirement of employees hired after July 1, 2015.

“It’s a rather important decision,” Commissioner Chip Bertino said. “I don’t mind taking the time to flesh out some of the options available to us to get it as right as we possibly can.”

At Tuesday’s meeting of the Worcester County Commissioners, Stacey Norton, the county’s human resources director, presented three possible options for retiree benefit options. The first was to continue to offer an 80/20 split, with benefits offered to the dependents of retirees at a rate of 20 percent of the total premium.

Norton said another option was to change the policy so that the county didn’t cover any costs for employee dependents after that employee’s retirement. She said there would be cost savings to the county with the change but that they’d be slow to accumulate at first. Savings, she said, could reach $261,227 in FY 2030 and were projected to increase to $714,847 in FY 2040.

“There are a lot of variables and options in those numbers,” she said.

The third possibility Norton presented officials with was the idea of a 50 percent cost share, with the county covering half of the healthcare costs for the dependents of its retirees. That would result in estimated savings of $130,614 in FY 2030 and savings of $357,424 in FY 2040.

She stressed that whatever change the commissioners decided on would not affect current employees but rather new hires.

“It’s not going to make any changes to our employees or retirees today,” she said.

She added that she wanted to see the county implement a wellness program as a way to decrease healthcare costs.

“Those cost savings we’ll be able to reap before 2030,” she said.

Commissioner Joe Mitrecic, who has expressed support for retiree benefit changes in the past, said he did not want to vote on a potential change Tuesday because Commissioner Ted Elder was not present. He said he’d also like to see more information —ideally what the state and other counties were doing regarding retiree health benefits — before a decision was made. Mitrecic was on the Ocean City Mayor and Council when the resort phased out dependent coverage for new hires. He said the move resulted in significant cost savings and did not have any impact on the quality of candidates for job openings.

“I don’t think we have anything to compare this with,” he said, asking county staff to investigate further.

Bertino asked whether the additional information would be presented at a work session or a regular meeting. Kelly Shannahan, the county’s assistant chief administrative officer, said a work session would allow for a more detailed discussion.

Bertino said he wanted time to understand all of the options available to the county and suggested a work session.

“I don’t want a time schedule to push us to make a decision,” he said.

Sonny Bloxom, the county’s attorney, agreed that a work session would be necessary, particularly since any change made would affect Worcester County Board of Education employees as well as county employees.

“We’re all in this together,” he said.