Westchester Lawmakers Meet With District Attorney & Current Insurance Provider On Employee Health Insurance Contributions Proposals

(White Plains, NY) – The Westchester County Board of Legislators Special Committee on Health Insurance Savings held its second meeting on Tuesday, February 16, 2010. The first meeting was held on Saturday, February 6th when the committee agreed on a work plan for coming up with legislation for county employees’ contributions to their health insurance plan. The committee was established to analyze and make recommendations on the fairest and most cost-effective way for the County to provide quality and affordable health care access to its employees at reduced costs. Chaired by the Board’s Vice-Chairman, Legislator Lyndon Williams (D-Mount Vernon) and the Board’s Majority Whip, Legislator Judy Myers (D-Larchmont), the Committee’s initial goal was to reach out to stakeholders who would be most affected by changes in the existing county plan as well as persons with knowledge and expertise on the proposed changes. "With the research we are doing now, and the input from all of the involved stakeholders, this special committee will be able to make a rational and sustainable recommendation for moving forward," commented Legislator Myers.

In this regard, the committee brought together Westchester County District Attorney Janet DiFiore, Finance Commissioner Anne Marie Berg and POMCO representatives for input on the fairest and most economically feasible manner the County could achieve some interim savings for taxpayers while continuing to provide its quality coverage to its employees.  “The committee moved expeditiously to provide a workable plan that considered all stakeholders in balancing the important need for taxpayer relief while allowing for fairness to county employees,” said Vice-Chairman Williams.

Beyond the near-term savings from a revised contributory plan, the committee, which consists of, Myers and Williams, along with Legislators John Testa (R-Peekskill), Alfreda Williams (D-Greenburgh) and John Nonna (D-Mount Pleasant), intends to pursue permanent long-term savings by conducting a comprehensive analysis of all existing plans that would save Westchester taxpayers millions of dollars. Vice-Chairman Lyndon Williams said that the next phase is for the committee to meet with health insurance professionals and key industry experts to assess and develop a health benefit plan works best for Westchester County.  “We all agree that the county’s health plan should provide for employees contributions. However, changes to the plan should be implemented in a thoughtful and orderly manner with a view to best quality coverage at the lowest costs. This cannot be achieved by simply pulling numbers out of a hat that might not materialize in the long run.”  

Harmful Impact on Westchester District Attorney’s Office
Westchester County District Attorney, Janet DiFiore, told the committee that her office will be disproportionately impacted by the County Executive’s proposed plan, which would require to all non-union employees pay 15% of the estimated costs of the County’s insurance expense. The DA pointed that of the 377 of employees affected by the proposed plan, 125 of them are county prosecutors, who have not received even a cost-of-living increase since 2005.  She said “my senior staff is comprised largely of lawyers who are these ‘career prosecutors’…it is the reason why our County has one of the highest felony conviction rates in the state of New York. We have skilled, experienced and responsible prosecutors in the Westchester County District Attorney’s Office, and we need to treat them fairly and with the high level of respect they deserve” stated DiFiore. The District Attorney said that while her office was disproportionately impacted, she was not consulted on the County Executive’s proposal.     “The unintended consequences of these actions, creating strong incentives which will cause the premature departure from public service by these highly skilled lawyers—and eliminate at one time, in one fell swoop the entire top level of my staff—will have potentially devastating effects on public safety in Westchester County,” said DiFiore. 

The District attorney made it clear that she was not opposed to a contributory plan being enacted, given the current economic climate, but would appreciate sensible thoughtful process that considers the unintended consequences that could result. She said, “I understand completely the gravity of the economic issues facing our County government and, further, that I fully support smart, real and effective change as long as it is designed to deliver essential services to the taxpayers in this County in the most efficient manner.  What I am opposed to are changes that are not smart, real or effective—and the consequences of these proposals you have before you have neither been thought out or planned for adequately.”  

The $1.2 million dollars of projected savings for 2010 in County Executive proposal is overstated
County Finance Commissioner Ann Marie Berg discussed the existing plan as administered currently by POMCO. She confirmed that contrary to the impression given to the public that county employees do not pay for health insurance coverage, some county employees do pay part of the costs for their health coverage. Berg also clarified on the record that the $22,000 costs of family coverage on which the County Executive’s savings were based is erroneous.  She said that the “$22,000 is the overall cumulative costs of the POMCO family plan, which includes HMO, Medicare Part B, dental and vision plans,” said Commissioner Berg.  According to records, the baseline cost of a family plan that the County pays for health coverage only under the POMCO contract for County employees is only $19,500. 

“One of the problems I’m having with this whole discussion is that people are irresponsibly throwing out all kinds of numbers in terms of this plan,” said Board Chairman Ken Jenkins (D-Yonkers).  “It is completely irresponsible that people are suggesting that our [POMCO] family plan costs $22,000 a year, and it doesn’t.  Let’s compare apples to apples. Quite frankly, the fundamental goal of this Committee was to conduct this type of analysis and to get to the root of these issues, and honestly, we are having numbers presented to the public that are simply not true.  Taxpayers need real tax relief and fiscal leadership, not politics as usual with officials playing fast and loose with the numbers.” 

POMCO Representatives Gave Updates on Current Plan
Jennifer Zando, Director of Account Management and Vanessa Flynn, Vice President of Client Services of POMCO briefed the Committee on its current plan with the County.  They explained that Westchester County used to have a fully insured plan with Empire Blue Cross Blue Shield as its insurance carrier. The County determined that it would be more cost-effective for the County to be self-insured. It then changed from Empire to a self-insured plan administered by POMCO as the 3rd party administrator. They informed the Committee that the current plan already contained a ‘working spouse’ exclusion, which prevents a working spouse from using the POMCO plan as a primary source of insurance.

POMCO representatives indicated that they provide the County regular reports on ways to save money on health insurance. The Committee requested copies of the reports be forwarded to the Legislature on a regular basis.  The Committee also requested that POMCO provide a various plan comparisons and recommendations for alternative for non-represented employees. 

Legal Opinion requested from the County Attorney
Last week, the Committee requested a legal opinion from the County Attorney on the legal implications of plan revisions without the input of other the duly elected branches of county government (District Attorney’s office, County Clerk and the Judiciary) and without the required fiscal impact statement. These separately elected offices were not consulted by the County Executive before proposal of his plan. “We need to be working together on these important policy issues that cross intersect various branches of government that are managed by officials separately elected by Westchester residents to administer their offices. It is neither prudent nor reasonable to implement a policy that could have devastating impact on another elected official’s agency without consulting him or her,” said Vice-Chairman Williams.