By BETSY SWENSON
Tammany West news
MANDEVILLE–Mandeville city employees will no longer receive free health insurance, but their premiums will be lower than what they originally feared.
Following the council’s refusal to further expand the city’s health care budget, Mayor Donald Villere’s administration has settled on a city employee health plan requiring monthly contributions of $45 for individuals and $130 for families, along with a deductible of $1,500 for individuals/$3,000 for families.
Those numbers may come as a slight relief to some employees, after the Jan. 23 city council meeting left them facing the possibility of $105 individual monthly premiums and $299 for families.
“After the council’s decision, I felt like we needed to review the plan,” said Villere, who originally pushed for a more generous plan with monthly premiums of $20 for individuals and $98 for family coverage, along with a $250 deductible. That plan would have cost the city an additional $400,000 and would have eased employees into the arena of high insurance costs, Villere said.
“We felt like [that plan] was a good combination of employee reduction in benefits and an increase in employee contribution, and we felt like the city itself should come up with more money,” Villere said.
“But that didn’t happen,” he added.
Council members David Ellis, Clay Madden and Ernest Burguieres voted against the mayor’s proposal, citing flat revenues and rising health care costs. Rick Danielson and Carla Buchholz voted in favor of the $400,000 budget increase.
Frustrated and angry city employees stormed out of the council meeting after the vote, saying the higher premiums were more than their paychecks could bear. Of the 129 city employees who are on the city plan, 21 of those earn salaries that place them below the poverty line.
“A premium of $300 for family coverage is just not something these folks could swallow,” Villere said. “That’s a pretty big jump with short notice.”
With no extra money to work with, the administration last week met with city employees to consider different plan options with higher deductibles and copays, but lower monthly premiums. They finally settled on the current plan with $130 monthly family premiums and a $3,000 family copay. The majority of employees insure their families through the city.
Councilman Ernest Burguieres, who said the Jan. 23 council meeting was one of the “toughest council meetings [he had] experienced,” criticized the mayor for not presenting the higher deductible plan at the last council meeting, when the plan fit within the city’s budget.
“Why submit a plan, that is hundreds of thousands of dollars over budget, when there were plans that were within [budget and] apparently acceptable to the employees?” he asked in an email.
Villere said the city’s final health plan choice will still prove burdensome to the employees, while the lower deductible plan he submitted at the council meeting would help ease them into paying higher premiums.
“There’s really no way to prepare them in that short a period of time for such a drastic increase,” Villere said. “They had a very good plan before, at a very modest cost to them, and I think they realized that. They were expecting an increase in premiums and a reduction in benefits, if you would, but I think the council’s actions were a little harsh. I felt like we were recommending a way to step into those higher deductibles and copays that most people have, with an increased opportunity for next year, which I stated to the council as well as to the employees that their rates are going to go up again next year and to be prepared for them.”
He continued, “It could have been a lot different as far as to help ease [the employees] into that higher cost plan. [The council] didn’t give these folks an opportunity to step into a higher deductible and copays, when they had none before.”