SNOW HILL – The Worcester County Commissioners approved a change expected to reduce the county’s medical insurance costs in the future.
On Tuesday the commissioners voted unanimously to eliminate the health insurance cost-share for dependents of employees hired after Oct. 1 upon their retirement. Though the change was initially proposed in June, the commissioners delayed their decision in order to gather input from the county’s educators.
“I didn’t read anything that swayed my mind,” Commissioner Joe Mitrecic said. “I hope we continue to move forward with this.”
Mitrecic has long advocated for the change in an effort to address rising health insurance costs. Currently, dependents of retirees with at least 15 years of county service are provided medical insurance at the same cost-share as the retired employee. That rate is 10 percent for county employees hired before July 1, 2015, and 20 percent for employees hired since then.
County staff told the commissioners in June that Worcester County was behind in its benefit savings. They said the county’s annual obligation was roughly $2.7 million for county employees and $16.1 million for Worcester County Board of Education employees.
In an effort to reduce those costs in the future, Mitrecic encouraged officials to eliminate the health insurance cost-share for the dependents of retirees, something he said more and more employers were doing.
Since the vote was tabled in June, the county received feedback from the Worcester County Teachers Association (WCTA) and the Worcester County Educational Support Personnel Association (WCESPA). Both groups objected to the change.
In an Aug. 25 letter to the county, WCTA recommended a moratorium on benefit changes until impacts were fully assessed. The organization also recommended a comprehensive review by an independent consultant to determine long-term impacts of benefit changes.
A letter from WCESPA agreed with those recommendations and also reminded county officials of the low salaries paid to support personnel. The letter, written by Ivory Smith, president of WCESPA, stated that the starting salary for a cafeteria worker was $12,178 and that a new educational assistant could expect to earn $14,388.
“When we ask employees why they accept positions that pay such small salaries, the most common response is they work these jobs for the health insurance benefits,” Smith wrote. “In many cases their spouses are farmer, contractors, trades people, resort related jobs or work in service industries that do not provide benefits. Without these valuable health insurance benefits … employees could not afford to continue working for the school system at such low rates of pay.”
Mitrecic said he appreciated the responses from the WCTA and WCESPA but that neither group suggested a solution to the county’s growing financial burden created by the health benefits.
The commissioners voted 7-0 to approve the resolution outlining the change. According to the resolution, employees hired on or after Oct. 1, will be expected to pay 20 percent of the premium to participate in the county’s health program upon their retirement. The retiree’s dependents will be responsible for 100 percent of the premium.