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Jail staff no longer holdouts


February 19. 2013 9:33PM
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Luzerne County's unionized prison employees will start paying $60 per month toward health insurance on Jan. 1 – the final holdout in a nearly decade-long push to make the entire county workforce contribute financially for health care.


Non-union county workers have been paying part of their insurance premiums for nine years, and county administrators have been trying since then to add insurance contributions to the county's 10 union contracts as they come up for negotiation.


The non-union workers and hundreds of union employees pay 10 percent, which currently equates to the following amounts per pay every two weeks along with the yearly totals:


• Single: $20.25, $526.50


• Husband/wife: $47.99, $1,247.74


• Parent/one child: $36.67, $953.42


• Parent/two children: $38.07, $989.82


• Family: $49.48, $1,286.48


In comparison, prison employees will pay $720 annually, no matter which type of coverage is provided. Prison workers with single coverage will end up paying $193.50 more than their colleagues paying 10 percent, but will save $233 to $566 annually on the other types of coverage.


Aside from the prison, only one other union -- court-appointed professionals – has entirely avoided the conversion to 10 percent.


This union, which covers probation and domestic relations support officers, pays $40 per month, or $480 a year, for single coverage up to $95 per month, or $1,140 annually, for family. Another $10 will be tacked onto the union's monthly payments on Jan. 1, 2014.


The administration will have another opportunity to seek 10-percent payments at the prison next year because that union contract expires at the end of 2013.


The court-appointed professionals contract expires at the end of 2014.


Both unions have the right to binding arbitration because they can't strike.


Detectives hired in the future will pay 12 percent – a new high – though nobody is impacted by that change at this time because there are no openings and one detective is slated for layoff.


Current detectives hired before January 2007 are paying $30 per month for single and $75 per month for other types of coverage. On Jan. 1, any detectives hired before 2012 will pay $100 per month, or $1,200 a year, regardless of the type of coverage.


Attractive plan

Officials frequently emphasize the county's health plan is generous compared to many private sector offerings.


Employees can choose HMO plans through Geisinger or Blue Cross of Northeastern Pennsylvania. There is no deductible, and co-payments are $10 for both primary care and specialist visits.


The county spent a five-year annual average of $10 million on health insurance from 2007 through 2011, and $10.06 million is budgeted for 2013, according to county Manager Robert Lawton's proposed budget.


The county pays most claims out-of-pocket because it is self-insured. Stop-loss insurance was purchased to cover the cost of individual claims between $250,000 and $750,000 to protect the county if employees must undergo a series of expensive treatments, said county benefits coordinator Jay Zupa. The stop-loss insurance costs about $413,000 annually, records show.


Some unions have started the conversion to 10 percent contributions, but only for newer employees.


Employees in the court-appointed and court-related unions pay 10 percent if they were hired in recent years. The unions' veteran workers pay $30 per month for single and $75 per month for family and other coverage, which amounts to $360 or $900 annually.


County administrators attempted to switch court-related union employees hired before March 2008 to the 10-percent contributions during contract negotiations earlier this year, but the contract landed in arbitration because the two sides reached an impasse. An arbitrator's ruling on the pact is not expected until early next year.


The assistant public defenders/district attorneys, represented by Teamsters Local 401, agreed to pay 10 percent with caps to protect them if the county tries to significantly increase the payments.


County officials say they are reviewing health care costs to determine if the contribution amounts should be raised for employees paying 10 percent.




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