Source: Sherman Publications

Twp. opts out of state health care law; sticks with own plan

by CJ Carnacchio

October 19, 2011

When it comes to deciding how health care costs should be split between the municipality and those who receive benefits, Oxford Township officials decided to stick with their own plan rather than be told what to do by the state.

“I think it’s a local decision and it should be decided here locally,” said township Treasurer Joe Ferrari. “I don’t believe it’s up to the state to dictate what local governments do unless they’re in trouble.”

Last week, officials voted 6-0 to opt-out of participating in the Publicly Funded Health Insurance Contribution Act, recently signed into law by Gov. Rick Snyder.

Trustee Joe Bunting wants to give the township board more time to study the new law.

“I want the board to have the opportunity to take a look at it,” said Trustee Joe Bunting. “I don’t necessarily agree with everything the state had passed . . . The opt-out is for one year. If that doesn’t work out, we can go back (and revisit it).”

Under the new law, local governments and school districts are offered three options when it comes to funding health care benefits for elected officials and public employees.

The first is a “hard cap” under which local governing units and school districts cannot pay more than $5,500 per year in health care costs for an individual, $11,000 annually for a couple and $15,000 per year for a family.

Option two allows public employers to pay no more than 80 percent of the premiums for medical, optical and dental benefits. The other 20 percent or more would be paid by the public employees and elected officials who receive medical coverage.

The third option allows local governments and school districts to exempt themselves for one year from the new law’s requirements, which take effect Jan. 1, 2012,, if approved by a two-thirds vote of its governing body. In order to extend the exemption each year after that, a two-thirds vote of the governing body would be required each time.

In the township board’s case, in order to continue opting out, five out of the seven officials must vote in favor of it every time. Even though he voted in favor of the opt-out, Ferrari disagreed with that provision of the law.

“It’s one person, one vote,” he said. “It should never be two-thirds of any body. There’s seven members; four members should carry (the vote). It shouldn’t have to be five.”

Some township officials voted to opt-out because they’re content with the health care contribution system they implemented prior to the new law.

“We already have a plan in place for next year,” said Trustee Mike Spisz.

Each employee and full-time elected official currently pays 2.5 percent of their health care cost. Their contributions equal a combined $4,027 for the year. In January 2012, the individual contribution is scheduled to increase to 5 percent.

“We’d already had a discussion and made our decision,” said Trustee Melvin “Buck” Cryderman. “I don’t see why whatever the governor did would change our minds on that.”

There was also some feeling that increasing the health care contribution from 2.5 to 20 percent was going to place too great of a financial burden on some employees.

“I thought the 20 percent was a drastic jump,” Cryderman said. “I was much more concerned about people that are on the lower end of the (pay) scale. That was really going to hurt quite a bit.”

Clerk Curtis Wright characterized both the “hard cap” and 80/20 options as an “excessive hit for employees to handle.”

Right now, the township pays a total of $161,082 annually for medical coverage for 10 employees, which includes the three full-time elected officials, the station manager for Oxford Community Television and the administrative assistant at the Oakland County Sheriff’s substation.

The township’s monthly health insurance rates (which includes dental and vision coverage) are $574 for an individual, $1,377 for a couple and $1,721 for family coverage.

Some township board members acknowledged that as time goes on, the percentage of the health care premiums paid by employees and elected officials will have to increase, but they believe it should be done gradually.

“It’s definitely going to go up, I know that. It’s only reasonable,” Cryderman said. “Things are tough and everybody’s going to have to pay more of their fair share.”

Spisz said he will continue to “push” for the percentage to increase over time.

“I think 20 percent is a good target,” he said. “It’s just how quickly do you get there.”