Frisco still wrestling with health benefits
FRISCO – On Tuesday night, the town council voted to retain its medical benefits. The vote ended the raging debate over the legality of council benefits, but the issue remains of how to deal with the perk’s sizable price tag.
The 2004 budget allocates about $100,000 for the council’s health benefits and about $850,000 for health benefits of all town employees combined.
According to a Colorado Municipal League survey of 70 municipalities across the state, the town of Frisco ranks third in total monthly compensation for council members, at $1,638 per month in 2003.
Only $250 of that figure is salary. The remaining $1,369 represents the cost to the town of providing health benefits.
Many believe the town’s medical benefits are among the best available.
Councilmember David Amli and former Mayor Bob Moscatelli have been particularly critical of the plan, calling it the “Lear jet” or the “Cadillac” of health plans.
According to Councilmember Bernie Zurbriggen, the lofty health-care costs can be partly attributed to “some bad advice” which most likely originated from the town’s independent health-care consultant.
“We’ve been told repeatedly (by the town manager) that we have to be self-insured, because nobody will sell us the policy we currently have,” Zurbriggen said. “I have talked to people in the insurance business I respect and believe who have looked at this, and who have told me you can have the same level of benefits, add a $250 deductible, and, for about $484,000, we can buy the same thing that we now pay $865,000 for.”
Councilmember Rick Amico contends that the $103,000 figure allocated to council health care in the budget is far more than the actual cost to the town will be.
“If you look at the numbers, the $103,000 doesn’t play, based on the ordinance we passed (Tuesday) night,” Amico said.
He estimated that $48,000 is a more accurate figure than the oft-cited $103,000.
“This is all much ado about nothing, in my mind,” Amico said. “Over the last two months we’ve had four meetings on the budget. There were two people who showed up to hear about a $5.1 million budget, but people get real upset about $103,000.”
The current debate comes on the heels of changes already made in September.
“We’re in a transition,” said town manager Theresa Casey. “The issue of looking at benefits townwide cropped up a year ago or more. We did make some major changes (in September) by adding copays, deductables, and premiums.
“Since we went to the new plan, usage has really dropped, and the cost to the town has leveled off.”
Over the next few months, town staff will solicit bids from the insurance industry in an attempt to lower the cost of the current level of benefits.
“We want a (request for proposal) to go out directly from the town of Frisco, not the consultant,” Zurbriggen said. “We want them to bid the plan that we have, so that we can compare.
“By February, we will have had six months of experience with the changes we made in September. The reason we made the change, by instituting copays and things, is that maybe people would think twice because they would have to share some of the cost and be more prudent in the usage. Preliminarily, it looks like it’s working; that knocks down your $860,000.
“This is not really rocket science. We’ve been led astray. There are insurance companies who will sell you anything.”
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