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Abele's health insurance proposal draws criticism [Milwaukee Journal Sentinel]

By Steve Schultze, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

Oct. 09--Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele's plan to increase county workers' health insurance costs by $10.5 million next year and deny health insurance to part-timers working fewer than 30 hours a week drew criticism Monday from union leaders and county supervisors.

The higher benefit costs would come in the form of more expensive co-pays and deductibles and higher premiums for some workers, and are more than double the amount for raises and a new bonus program that Abele included in the 2013 budget. Abele's budget also would eliminate a $1,500-per-family payment toward employee flexible health spending accounts.

"Enough is enough," said Dave Eisner, contracts administrator for District Council 48 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. The boost in benefit costs comes on the heels of a larger benefit cost shift in 2012. The 2013 increase would raise employees' and retirees' share of health care costs to 29%, according to an analysis by county Comptroller Scott Manske.

County employees shouldn't have to bear the additional burden, said Monica Hogans, who represents nursing assistants and licensed practical nurses at the county's Mental Health Complex. Hogans said she couldn't afford to pay her own health insurance deductible costs.

The proposed change to deny health coverage to some part-time workers would create "enormous staffing problems" at the Mental Health Complex, which has relied heavily on 20-hour-a-week employees, said Candice Owley, president of a nurses' union. That, coupled with the higher benefit costs, would likely result in county nurses quitting for other jobs, she said.

The county pay for nurses is substantially below what private hospitals pay, even with the raises that Abele has proposed, Owley said. The county executive's budget includes 1.9% raises for 2013 for all employees, plus seniority raises for some.

Supervisor Jim "Luigi" Schmidt said Abele's health proposal put an unfairly heavy burden on employees. He said supervisors should find a way to lessen the proposed increase so employees would wind up with an increase in take-home pay. Many county workers have had their pay frozen for several years.

County Budget Director Craig Kammholz said Abele didn't want to deny benefits to part-time workers and was willing to work on ways to help boost 20-hour-a-week employees to 30 hours to meet the new proposed minimum needed to qualify for health coverage. He said the idea was similar to one Milwaukee Public Schools had implemented.

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Abele's budget would freeze the property tax levy at $275 million next year, while increasing the overall budget by nearly 10% to $1.3 billion.

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(c)2012 the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Visit the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel at www.jsonline.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services

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