Tentative Agreement Reached On Insurance Switch For County Engineer Union Workers

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A tentative agreement has been reached for switching unionized workers to a different health insurance policy that Athens County Engineer Jeff Maiden says would, on an annual basis, save his department well over $200,000.

Gary Arnold, staff representative for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, drafted a memorandum of understanding that Maiden was reviewing Thursday afternoon.

“I don’t see a problem with it. I just need to dot all my I’s and cross all my T’s,” Maiden said adding that he anticipates signing the agreement Friday, Dec. 17. The union represents 18 workers in the engineer’s department.

Maiden wants to move the employees from their Medical Mutual plan to coverage by the County Employee Benefits Consortium of Ohio (CEBCO), which covers other county employees and has lower premiums.

The AFSCME contract at the engineer’s department states that the “scope of benefits” cannot be changed during the life of the contract, but the Medical Mutual and CEBCO plans are not equal. An employee benefits adviser for a local insurance agency did an analysis of the two plans at Maiden’s request, using a federal calculator that rated the Medical Mutual plan at 96 percent and the CEBCO plan at 92.6 percent — meaning there would be a 3.5 percent reduction in benefits by switching plans.

Maiden initially offered to offset that reduction with annual cash payments to employees, but earlier this week proposed an alternative plan to have a third-party administrator reimburse employees for out-of-pocket expenses they incur because of the differences in the plans.

“No employee will lose any out-of-pocket money,” Arnold said. “That’s what we were after.”

Maiden said employees will receive a $200 signing bonus if they expedite signing the new insurance forms.

Maiden said money from his budget would be set aside to cover the out-of-pocket reimbursements. The third-party administrator is Benefit Assistance Corp. of Ripley, W.Va. Maiden said he needs to confirm the cost, but was told the firm would charge $700 per month.

On an annual basis, the change in policies would save between $230,000 and $240,000, Maiden estimated Thursday.

The engineer’s department will continue to pay the full cost of premiums for employees, which is part of the labor contract between AFSCME and the engineer’s department.

Maiden did not attempt to change that requirement as part of moving the employees to CEBCO coverage, but Arnold said he anticipates that in upcoming contract negotiations Maiden will seek to have employees pay a share of premium costs. Other county employees already do that.

Arnold said the union will oppose the change.

“We’ve given up raises over the years to keep this fully paid insurance,” Arnold said.

The current contract expires in September, and Arnold said negotiations will get underway this summer.