By Frank Lewis
October 8, 2013
PDT Staff Writer
A 1997 story in the Daily Times read - “Members of the Portsmouth City Council will now pay 20 percent of their health insurance benefits.” The story goes on to say - “The benefits have been at the root of a controversy which included an effort to recall council members. The decision to pay for some of the benefits became official in a meeting Monday. But instead of toning down the controversy surrounding the issue, the move has simply added fuel to the fire for a citizens group that insists Council members shouldn’t receive health insurance at all.”
The kicker is that City Council members do not pay 20 percent for their health insurance. Instead, they pay the same per month as city employees which is $80 for the single plan and $200 for family coverage for union members and $25/$50 for non-union employees.
City Council health benefits have come back to the front of the latest City Council controversy with an issue that will appear on the November ballot. Voters are being asked to approve a pay increase for members of Portsmouth City Council, and as a part of that raise, Council members would lose their city-paid health benefits, forcing them to either not have coverage through the city or paying the entire cost of the premium.
Council members are paid $600 per year while the President of Council is paid $1,000 per year. The total, counting all Council members, is $4,000 per year. They are asking voters to take their annual pay from $600 to $5,000. With the current pay scale, add in an insurance cost potential of $113,825. While salaries have not gone up since 1928, the yearly increase in insurance costs has been approximately 15 percent. And the potential increase for 2014 is, according to figures from City Council, 40 percent. A significant portion of this increase is due to health insurance claims running at $1.07 for every $1.00 paid in premiums.
First Ward Councilman Kevin W. Johnson is asking the question - “Should the article’s reference to Council paying 20 percent of premiums be in effect today? Members with single person insurance would be paying some $120 per month instead of the required $25. And those with a family plan would be paying some $285 per month instead of the required $50.”
Johnson said the amendment’s fate will determine his rate.
“I voluntarily choose to pay $80,” Johnson said. “Should the amendment not pass, I will advise the Treasurer’s office to have my payments revert back to $25 instead of $80 per month.”
Johnson said some members of Council have insurance through the companies they work for and thus do not utilize city insurance. He said they simply get the $600 annual salary. There are others, however, who have the family plan, which means they are receiving some $18,000 per year in addition to their salaries.
“If the charter amendment fails, the inequity in remuneration will not only continue but shall be more expensive should insurance rates for the city increase by the anticipated 40 percent,” Johnson said. “Members of Council with family health insurance would be getting some $24,000 in yearly remuneration.”
As an example, Johnson said the city pays approximately $7,000 per year for his insurance. So far, Johnson says he has paid $720 this year. He said United Health, which handles the city’s benefits packages has paid out $18,402.92 for his health bills, including $1,280.65 in medicine - the bulk of which was paid to the Veterans Administration, because Johnson is a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps.
Johnson said the Ohio Supreme Court did uphold Council’s entitlement to the benefits package it now receives.
According to page 17 of the city’s Personnel Policies and Procedures manual and in a memo regarding the new health insurance marketplace (Obamacare) coverage issued by Portsmouth Mayor David Malone to every city employee, dated Sept. 3, 2013 - “Only some employees are eligible for city insurance - permanent full time employees.”
Frank Lewis may be reached at 740-353-3101, ext. 252, or at firstname.lastname@example.org. For breaking news, follow Frank on Twitter @FrankLewisPDT.