GR panel doubles its premiums

January 15, 2010
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Grand Rapids city commissioners voluntarily chose to double their health care premiums last week and increase their payments from 10 percent to 20 percent of their policy’s cost.

Three years ago, board members volunteered to pay for 10 percent of their coverage.

Mayor George Heartwell and Commissioners James White and Walt Gutowski are enrolled in the city’s plan, while Commissioners Rosalynn Bliss and David Schaffer are covered by their respective employers. Commissioner Elias Lumpkin, a retired college educator and administrator, has a state policy.

David LaGrand resigned from the commission to run for the state Senate, so the board has a vacancy to fill to restore the number of commission seats to seven.

Heartwell said commissioners were showing leadership by freely agreeing to pay more for their coverage and he hoped the city’s bargaining units would do the same when it’s time for contract negotiations. The commissioners’ higher premium charge goes into effect Friday.

“I have no problem going to 20 percent, especially if it will boost the morale of our employees,” said Gutowski. “I’m happy to do it.”

“This sends a message (to city employees) that we were listening,” said Bliss.

Gutowski, who owns Swift Printing Co. on the city’s west side, said he provides coverage for his workers through the company’s plan. But he said he prefers the city’s plan for him and his family because it offers more coverage.

Gutowski compared his company’s plan to a “Chevy” and the city’s to a “Cadillac,” as it offers dental and vision coverage that isn’t part of his firm’s policy. He suggested that the city should consider offering both to employees and let them choose which they prefer.

City Manager Greg Sundstrom said department managers will follow the commission’s decision and also speak with union leaders about having employees pick up more of their premium costs.

In a related matter, commissioners agreed last week to a three-year contract with Meritain Health to be the third-party negotiator for the city’s self-funded health insurance plan.

“Their bid ended up being the best proposal that we received. It was the lowest bid,” said Mari Beth Jelks, city human resources director.

Five firms submitted bids, and Meritain Health had the lowest annual cost at $681,030 or $56,752 a month. The highest bid was $1.4 million, or nearly $120,000 a month.

Jelks told commissioners that she would be back before them with a proposal for a fully insured plan from Priority Health that would cover workers of the Grand Rapids Employees Independent Union. Priority Health submitted the lowest bid for that coverage at just under $1.8 million, a yearly savings of $652,300 from the cost of the city’s self-funded plan.

But Jenks said the bid from Priority Health was for only one year. The city needs a three-year agreement for the union’s coverage, and she wants to determine if the savings can be maintained throughout a contract before she returns to the commission.

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