Arundel councilman criticizes colleagues on health care

Republican says two Democrats should pay their own bills

April 24, 2011|By Arthur Hirsch, The Baltimore Sun

A freshman Republican member of the Anne Arundel County Council has turned on two longer-tenured Democratic colleagues, arguing that in a time of tight budgets they should be paying for their own health insurance rather than having local government pick up the tab.

Derek Fink is calling on Jamie Benoit and Daryl Jones to give up the benefit, and he attacks both for backing a bill last year that allowed them to stay on county health insurance while barring future council members from the program. The two Democrats have served on the council since December 2006; Fink took office in December.

"We're asking all employees to do more for less," said Fink of Pasadena, referring to furloughs and pay cuts taken by about 4,000 county employees this year and included in the budget proposed for the next fiscal year. Referring to Benoit and Jones, Fink said, "I just hope they do the right thing and make the same sacrifice they're asking everyone else to make."

Benoit, of Crownsville, said he has to stay on the county health plan because his eldest daughter is being treated for an array of serious health problems. He said one doctor who is essential to the 7-year-old girl's treatment is covered under the county plan but not under another insurance program he has with his company, Federal Data.

Fink said the argument is not about the insurance plan but who is paying for it. He said Benoit and Jones could stay on the county plan but pay for the coverage themselves.

County personnel officer Andrea Fulton confirmed that council members could pay for their own insurance if they wished. She said she might have to consult with the county attorney's office if a council member asked to do that, but she said, "I can't imagine if he wanted to pay more that we couldn't accommodate that."

Benoit argues that if he paid more for the insurance premium, he would violate the state law barring changes in public officials' compensation during their term.

Jones, of Severn, did not return a call seeking comment.

Fink has focused most of his argument on Benoit, whose coverage has cost more. In the current fiscal year, which ends June 30, Fink said Benoit's family plan has cost the county $17,700 and Jones' individual coverage has cost $6,500. Benoit said he paid part of his premium and the balance paid by the county was about $14,000.

Benoit said Fink is raising the subject for political reasons.

"This is just another case of one guy taking a political cheap shot at another, in my opinion," said Benoit, who was active for years in county Democratic politics before he ran for the first time in 2005. "I think the [Republican] Party and Fink regard me as a serious political threat, and they should."

Benoit, a 39-year-old lawyer who owns a technology business in Northern Virginia, says Fink's argument is part of an effort to hurt his political prospects.

"I think that's an absolutely ridiculous argument," said Fink. "The spin he's trying to put on this is just spin. It's about tax dollars."

He forwarded an email he received from Benoit on April 7, after Benoit heard that Fink was asking questions about the cost of Benoit's health coverage.

"If my current participation in the health plan is used for political gain by anyone, I will assume it came from you and will respond at least tenfold," Benoit wrote.

Asked about the email, Benoit said it was "a promise." He declined to elaborate.

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