Bexley looks for prescription to cut health costs

Bexley City Council has decided that the negligible savings from changing employee health care benefits wouldn’t be worth the ill will  this could create.

"It’s critical not to forget the employees in this process," consultant David Kessler told council at a special Dec. 15 meeting. "Is it worth the headache? In my opinion, no, but it’s your decision, not mine."

Council had been considering a switch to a health savings account and altering the high-end health coverage to possibly save the city money.

A 4-3 vote on Dec. 11 shot down that proposal, but representatives revisited the issue at the rare Saturday meeting.

Councilman Matt Lampke had calculated that the city could save as much as $36,000 a year by a change in the high-end plan, but Finance Director Beecher Hale pointed out that those savings would actually fall to the employees.

The city could see savings at a later time on its premium costs, due to a decrease in utilization by employees, broker and consultant Tony Lombardo explained.

By going with a straight renewal, the city will see a 9 percent increase in its costs for the employee health benefits.

But Kessler and Lombardo did not see this figure as exorbitant, with the average increase at 15 percent.

Council President Mark Masser pointed out that Bexley had faced a 16 percent increase earlier in the year, and its consultants had been able to negotiate that figure down.

Lombardo believes that offering health savings accounts is the way to go, but noted there wasn’t enough time to inform employees before the Jan. 1 insurance renewal date.

"We should have been here two months ago," Lombardo said.

It would be possible to obtain an extension of the renewal date, Lombardo added, and that the city could renew its plan at mid-year, as well.

"The HSA is the answer" to rising costs, Lombardo offered. "Employees love them, and they dramatically drop costs. The more you shift costs to employees, the more they have to be consumers."

Educating employees about health savings accounts could be accomplished in one day, Lombardo said.

Councilman Jeff McClelland said he was in favor of making the HSAs available "as soon as possible" but conceded that this might not happen until 2009.

Mayor David Madison feared that a change in benefits could raise the ire of the unions representing employees, and said that he had already been contacted by the Fraternal Order of Police.

Kessler commented that the city has established excellent relations with its employees, but they are nervous because of the impending changes in the administration.

"It takes a long time to built trust, and a very short time to break trust," Kessler warned.

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