Arundel tries again for managed health plan

June 16, 1994|By John Rivera | John Rivera,Sun Staff Writer

Anne Arundel County officials, rebuffed in their efforts to implement a new managed health care system for employees, will try once again to get the program rolling.

Notices will soon be mailed out to 4,100 workers to inform them of a system that county officials hope will slow escalating health care costs. The program is scheduled to begin July 1.

Anne Arundel County Professional Firefighters, Local 1563, had caused a delay in efforts to implement the program when it obtained a court injunction last month that prevented the notices from going out until federal arbitrators ruled on two union grievances.

After receiving the rulings, Andrew Kahn, an attorney representing the firefighters, wrote to county personnel officials asking that the notification go out, with changes reflecting the arbitrators' decisions.

Hilton Wade, the county's benefits coordinator, said the notices are being prepared with the revised information, not because of Mr. Kahn's letter but to allow employees to take advantage of important tax benefits.

The union's first victory came on May 30, when an arbitrator ruled that the county cannot charge firefighters who use a preferred-provider network more than 10 percent of its actual cost, as stated in their contract. The preferred-provider network offers a larger pool of doctors than the more economical point-of-service network preferred by the county, and is more expensive to the county.

Employee premiums in the preferred-provider network were to be linked to the rate of increase or decrease of the cost of the point-of-service plan, which means premiums might exceed the 10 percent in their contract. According to union estimates, employees' premiums would increase to about 12 percent of the plan's costs in fiscal 1995.

Late last week, a second federal arbitrator ruled that the county cannot use premiums paid by its employees to build up a reserve fund to pay for health care claims in excess of what was budgeted.

County officials argued that sound fiscal management of the health care system requires establishing the reserve fund, and that the previous health care system included a reserve paid for out of premiums, including employee contributions. In addition, officials pointed out that the county would provide 90 percent of the reserve.

Arbitrator M. David Vaughn, ruling in favor of the union, concluded that the county's attempt to build up the reserve fund accounted for a large portion of the 71 percent rise in employees' health care premiums since Jan. 1.

Mr. Vaughn ordered the county to refund to employees any money that was deducted from their paychecks from Jan. 1 to June 30 in excess of the amount billed to the county by Blue Cross/Blue Shield that was used to establish a reserve fund.

"Obviously, I'm very pleased," said LeRoy A. Wilkison, firefighters union president. "Unfortunately, we had to grieve what we felt was clear and concise contract language to begin with."

On Monday, County Executive Robert R. Neall introduced a bill that would essentially penalize the firefighters for not accepting the health care plan as proposed by canceling a 2 percent raise that began April 21 and an additional 4 percent raise that is set to begin with the new fiscal year's first paycheck on July 14.

A public hearing on that bill is set for Monday night's County Council meeting.

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