Council's Bold Health Care Vote

April 28, 1994

The Anne Arundel County Council has weathered its share of criticism in this space, so it is fair to give credit where credit is due. Recently a narrow majority of council members -- David G. Boschert, D-Crownsville; Diane R. Evans, R-Arnold; Maureen Lamb, D-Annapolis, and Virginia Clagett, D-West River -- voted for County Executive Robert R. Neall's plan to control the cost of health benefits for county employees. This decision is in the best interests of taxpayers and the county, but could cost these legislators union support in the fall elections. It is reassuring to see that the council, which historically has tried to placate special interest groups, had the courage to stand up to the unions.

Not surprisingly, labor leaders are threatening court action. It's understandable that they want to hold on to traditional health plans, but public and private sector employers can no longer afford the skyrocketing cost of such care. The county's health-care costs have outstripped revenues by an average of nearly 15 percent a year from fiscal 1989 to '93. The unions, which have never liked Mr. Neall, consider his efforts to change the health plans an act of meanness, but that is unfair; there are sound financial reasons behind this decision, especially with a property tax cap stemming the flow of local revenues.

In fact, the new health package is less austere than the unions would have us believe. Under the least restrictive plan, county employees will still have a wide choice of doctors; of course, they pay more than those who join an HMO, where the premiums are 100 percent covered by the county.

We don't blame labor for fighting for the best for its members. But elected leaders have to think of taxpayers as well. The council's decision helps ensure that taxpayers will not have to pay through the nose or give up services so employees can keep a Cadillac-model health plan. County workers will still get decent health coverage, plus the pay raise Mr. Neall tied to their acceptance of the change in benefits.

With budget hearings beginning next week, we expect to hear more from the unions. The council should continue to stand up to them. County workers have been through rough times these past few years, but they are better off than a lot of others who have suffered as badly, or worse.

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