Columbus City Council approves increased healthcare costs for city employees, retirees

An initial council vote failed to pass new healthcare changes for Fiscal Year '17. After deliberation, city council approved the changes.
An initial council vote failed to pass new healthcare changes for Fiscal Year '17. After deliberation, city council approved the changes.

COLUMBUS, Ga. – Employees working for the Columbus Consolidated government can expect to pay more for healthcare starting next year. City Council approved a new plan that will leave city employees footing a higher percentage of their health insurance costs. However, the plan run into some problems down the road.

Tuesday’s council agenda called for a simple vote to approve or dismiss the proposed healthcare plan for Columbus city employees. But not everyone is on board with the potentially rising costs facing those who might need accessible healthcare the most.

An initial council vote failed to pass new healthcare changes for Fiscal Year '17. After deliberation, city council approved the changes.
An initial council vote failed to pass new healthcare changes for Fiscal Year ’17. After deliberation, city council approved the changes.

“It’s definitely adding insult to injury,” Columbus Police Sgt. Lance Deaton said.

Sgt. Deaton told News 3 he disapproves of council’s vote to implement a 23% healthcare cost increase for the next fiscal year.

“We’re shortchanging our citizens, our taxpayers, and our public employees by just saying this is all we can do,” Sgt. Deaton said.

Council’s initial vote failed to pass, but after learning of potentially harmful consequences to the city’s bottom line, council approved the increase. If the approval vote were delayed, the city would have to foot an additional $900 for each employee’s health benefits, according to the city’s Human Resources Director Reather Hollowell.

“Health coverage rates have increased and they’ve given us little bumps to compensate for them,” Sgt. Deaton said.

The changes have left some employees in lower income brackets worried about covering healthcare costs. Tammi Starkey with Shaw Hankins, the group that pushed the healthcare changes, says the presentation ran into a few snags when councilors raised concern over employees who might not be able to have all of their health costs covered.

“They’re not seeing the COLA (Cost of Living Adjustment) making up for that full increase,” Starkey told News 3. “So it was good to hear consideration of adjusting those pay grades to help offset costs for those groups. “It takes a lot of time to process what’s impacting this expense and how can we manage it.”

Sgt. Deaton spoke to the rising costs hurting the police department’s ability to offer overtime pay, as well as officer retention. This comes as the department is dealing with an 80+ officer shortage.

“The goal is, and we’ve talked about it is to appropriately fund the plan and set these contributions where they need to be, we will not continue to incur these types of increases year after year,” Starkey said.

Even with the vote passed, council still has plenty of questions about expected budget shortfalls when it comes to healthcare. Many councilors were hesitant to support the vote, as they felt they did not have enough information to fully support the healthcare changes. Abolishing or tweaking the annual 2% COLA was even brought into question. Enrollment for city employees and retirees starts October 3 and continues through October 21. The new healthcare costs would take effect January 1, 2017.

To see the new healthcare changes, click here: 2017 Columbus Consolidated Government Healthcare Proposal

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