By: Michael Campbell | Twitter: @itsthesoup
Posted: July 27, 2018 | 1:10 p.m.
PRINCE GEORGE – Efforts to reinstate health insurance eligibility for county supervisors failed this month after leaders voted unanimously against rescinding an April 2015 motion that formally made it so supervisors could not receive county health insurance benefits.
The unanimous decision came one month after supervisors decided to table the matter after a former supervisor – Bill Robertson, who previously represented District 2 – expressed concern about the item being placed on last month’s meeting agenda as part of the consent agenda, which, according to the county’s adopted bylaws for 2018, “the consent agenda shall be considered by the Board as a single item requiring one motion and one vote.” The language adds, “There shall be no debate regarding individual items on the consent agenda,” board members can remove an item from the consent agenda for comment by the board prior to a vote and any item that is removed “shall be voted on separately after voting on the consent agenda.”
“If this is open and transparent, pull this item and place it on the regular agenda so the board can see who is voting for this increase to themselves,” Robertson remarked during the public comment period in June, with currently sitting Supervisor T.J. Webb echoing his concerns about the reinstatement of eligibility for county leaders.
“This item should be taken off the agenda because it looks like we are giving ourselves a pay increase,” Webb said in June.
According to documents from the county, had the board voted to reinstate supervisor eligibility for health insurance, a supervisor wanting to be part of the county plan would be issued insurance at the rate of full-time county employees. Based on the adopted rates for the current year, a full-time employee pays $40 per month for Anthem Plan 30 coverage while the county pays $680 monthly, or $8,160 annually.
The health insurance benefits would be in addition to the salary already received by supervisors, with the chairman of the board, currently Alan Carmichael, receiving $7,500 annually, and the remaining board members being paid $6,900 yearly.
When the matter came back as a tabled item during this month’s meeting, many of the same concerns regarding the fiscal impact of reinstating eligibility remained even though, according to county staff, none of the supervisors had expressed interest in signing up for the county plan prior to the item being brought for discussion.
“My concern is that we have already approved the budget that has the county’s portion of the health plan included so, if anyone took advantage, would the county have to put in more,” asked Supervisor Floyd Brown, Jr, to which Finance Director Betsy Drewry confirmed more funds would have to be added to account for the additional premiums.
According to an issue analysis form produced by the county as part of the supporting documents for the matter, finance staff reported that there could be a “potential increase in employer-paid health insurance premiums if board members enroll,” along with health insurance claims impact.
“Personally, if we do something, we need to do it before we approve the budget because if we don’t, I think that leaves us scrambling for money,” Brown said.
For Supervisor Webb, who spoke against the matter during last month’s meeting, he remained steadfast in his opposition to an action he saw as “no different than giving [supervisors] a raise.”
“I continue to have concerns about this,” he said. “I don’t consider us part-time or full-time employees, we are elected officials.”
At the time of the initial decision to rescind supervisor eligibility for health insurance in 2015, county leaders said it was due to some significant impacts that were incurred by the county due to that eligibility and those costs impacted all county employees due to higher claims at the time.
During the discussion, Chairman Carmichael not only spoke to the rationale of why the matter was brought up for consideration but also the perception of the item being hidden from the public, as implied in comments made by former supervisor Robertson after it was part of the consent agenda in June.
“As we sat discussed whether the board members of this county – who are a part of the employee status – should somehow run into a situation where they lost their health coverage for their family with no means of them doing anything wrong, they had the option to look at the county’s insurance plan, join up with the county’s insurance plan and take up 100 percent of the cost on the board member themselves,” Carmichael said. “There was no hiding trying to get a benefit. It was giving [board members] the option because if anyone has ever lost a job due to a merger or a layoff and their family is stuck without insurance, you have to look for a plan to join.”
Carmichael continued, “We serve the county as we do and we are employees so it was a question of why can’t you go to the county and ask to be part of their plan but you pay your own way until you can decide whether you like to go the COBRA route,” referring to the federal law that provides continuing health coverage of group benefits in certain situation, “or whether it’s cheaper to pay your 100 percent part of being on the county plan, or to move forward.”
“That is where this originated from,” he said. “But obviously, the way it was written and the way it was perceived, it needed to be brought back for discussion and that’s why it is on the agenda as a tabled item, for clarification.”
Following his providing of the background of the agenda item for the public, Carmichael agreed with both supervisors Webb and Brown on their respective points of the county is in the midst of the FY2019 fiscal year, having already allocated funds for health insurance costs, adding to Webb’s comments by saying, “Whether or not you get a raise or not, it is still a benefit with more money coming into your family’s pocket that we did not sign up to receive.”
Speaking specifically to Carmichael’s point regarding when a supervisor would sign up for insurance, had the 2015 motion been rescinded, they would be responsible for “100 percent” of the premium for being on the county plan, Finance Director Drewry said there are some part-time employees who pay half of the health insurance premium and the county pays the remaining half, but there is no plan in place that sees an employee paying 100 percent of their coverage unless it’s through COBRA.
“We can find out but I am sure the company doesn’t care how the premium is collected as long as it is being collected,” Drewry remarked.
Though there were comments during the discussion of bringing the matter back during future work sessions closer to the FY2020 budget-building season, supervisors unanimously approved a motion to deny the request with no specific plans to bring it back in the future.