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Insurance Change May Be ‘Fought Tooth And Nail’

There has been a change to the proposed adjustment in health care plans for Medicare-eligible city retirees in the 2021 executive budget.

On Monday, Jamestown Mayor Eddie Sundquist and the Jamestown City Council publicly discussed the proposed change that could save the city $1.1 million in health care costs. Sundquist said the change to the original proposal, which was going to be a Medicare supplement plan, is to move Medicare-eligible retirees from the city’s self-insured plan to a fully-insured plan with United Health Care.

“I want to be very clear, this plan is different than what we talked about earlier this year,” he said. “This is a full plan. It’s a group plan.”

Sundquist said city retirees over the age of 65 would have the same medical, vision and dental coverage, with some additional coverage the city’s plan currently doesn’t offer. He said the only aspect that will be different is the personal insurance card would no longer have the city of Jamestown logo, but would have the United Health Care logo.

“We will continue with the contractual language,” he said. “(Medicare-eligible retirees) will continue to pay the same amount that they pay now, which is a requirement of the city contract.”

Not all of the council members are sold on the possible new health care plan for retirees. Kim Ecklund, At-Large councilwoman, said it’s disappointing that the council is just now discussing the retiree Medicare change proposal, which has been altered since Sundquist released his executive budget Oct. 8.

“I have concern that we’re two weeks away from a budget vote and what you put in your budget, what you are now proposing is something totally different,” she said. “I understand you have invested time in that, but this is a lot to shove down our throats to be honest with you, and expect us to understand and agree and support for all the reasons in two weeks.”

Ecklund said health care insurance is a very difficult program to understand. She then asked if this was an option, why wasn’t it proposed in the past. She also asked for figures and more information to understand the proposal better.

“How are you going to guarantee me that savings?” Ecklund asked. “I’m not opposed to looking into these ideas, but I want to see the numbers. I want to see the detail.”

Marie Carrubba, Ward 4 councilwoman, said health insurance companies have changed their plans in future years if they start to lose money with the coverage in the originally proposal.

“What happens if they find this program is not profitable?” she asked.

Ryan Thompson, city comptroller, said he understands the concern about rates possibly increasing in future years, but the city would still save $1.1 million in 2021.

He said if the rates do increase in the future, the estimated 300 city retirees could opt back into the city’s self-insured plan.

“I don’t understand the argument,” Thompson said.

At that point, several council members protested Thompson’s claim that the retirees could just opt back into the city’s plan. Carrubba and Ecklund both said it wouldn’t be that easy to opt the retirees back into the city’s plan if the new health care proposal doesn’t pan out.

Jeff Russell, At-Large councilman, asked if the city could allow the Medicare-eligible retirees the option to select the new plan instead of mandating the change. Thompson said the rate the city has been offered by United Health Care is dependent on all 300-plus retirees moving to the new fully-insured plan. He said if the number of retirees changes by more than 10%, United Health Care officials could change the costs.

Ecklund also said she is worried about the unions filing a lawsuit because the proposed change was not negotiated into a contract with the city’s collective bargaining units. Prior to the council’s work session meeting, a public hearing was held on the proposed budget with representatives of the Jamestown Professional Fire Fighters Association, International Association of Fire Fighters Local 137, addressing the council about the proposed health care change. Following the meeting, union officials emailed their remarks made during the meeting to The Post-Journal. In the remarks, the unions collectively state they are against the change because the proposal was not negotiated with the bargaining units.

“We have not negotiated nor agreed to these changes in our collective agreements,” the unions state. “By submitting this proposal to unilaterally alter our labor contracts as a component of his executive budget, the mayor has very disappointingly signaled his lack of respect for all city employees, our elderly retirees, and our families.”

Ecklund said during the work session that the unions are going to “fight tooth and nail” on any changes to their health care plan if it wasn’t part of contract negotiations.

“My gut tells me we will have that situation,” Ecklund said about a potential lawsuit filed by the unions against the city.

Grant Olson, Ward 5 councilman, said even if the unions file a lawsuit, the city’s legal fees wouldn’t equate to the $1.1 million they could potentially save by making the health care insurance switch. He said if the benefits are equivalent than the change wouldn’t alter the contract agreement with the unions.

“This to me seems like a no-brainer, assuming it is identical and the savings is there,” he said.

Anthony Dolce, council president, said the council has two weeks to decided if the proposed change to retiree’s health insurance should be included in the budget.

“This is a complicated and significant issue, not just for this budget, but going forward,” he said.

The council has scheduled an additional work session to discuss the proposed budget that will be held via Zoom at 7 p.m. Monday.

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