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Ravenna eyes health care changes

By Diane Smith | Staff Writer Published: January 13, 2013 4:00 AM
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The city of Ravenna is eyeing some major changes to its health insurance in the new year.

But Mayor Joseph Bica said until the city is done negotiating with its labor unions, the changes, seen as a mechanism for helping the city resolve its budget crisis, will be delayed.

"We've made a decision that we're not going to penalize the non-union employees," he said. "All city employees are going to be affected the same way, whether positively or negatively."

In recent years, the city has taken many measures in order to resolve a persistent shortfall in its general fund. But since the unions representing the city's police, fire and other laborers have resisted some changes, they have been applied mostly to the handful of administrative staffers who aren't represented by the unions.

In the past, those changes have included "spousal language" which requires spouses of city employees who have other insurance available to accept it rather than enrolling in the city's plan.

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Now, in the face of a $4.9 million loss in revenue in recent years, Ravenna is looking to implement health insurance premiums for the first time.

Through these and other budget changes, the city hopes to reduce its general fund shortfall to $273,468 in 2013 and $106,000 in 2014. Otherwise, Finance Director Kim Cecora has said, the city could be facing shortfalls exceeding $900,000.

Traditionally, city employees have paid no premiums for their health care, though they do pay for prescriptions and pay co-pays. Instituting premiums is something the city has been looking at for years, but officials were previously told that any changes to the plan would make the city subject to the Affordable Care Act.

Instituting premiums will have another added benefit -- allowing people who don't need the insurance to opt out of the plan. Previously, because employees paid no premiums, they were not able to decline the coverage.

Bica said the city is eying a premium of 10 percent of the COBRA rate, which amounts to less than $125 a month for families and less than $45 a month for singles.

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"It's still a great plan," Bica said. "We can't continue to absorb the cost. There needs to be a balance."

A unique feature would "incentivize" dropping out of the plan. That means that if a city employee has access to other health insurance, he or she not only has the option of dropping out, but there would be a financial incentive to do so. That, Bica said, would offset the cost of the alternative health insurance, and help the city by removing people from the plan.

"The significant cost savings is in getting people off the plan," he said. "If it costs us, it's worth it in the long run."

The premiums and incentives also would apply to members of city council, but only if the unions sign off on them.

The city approved contracts last year with the Fraternal Order of Police, the International Association of Firefighters and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. However, the contract with the police included a "wage opener" for the following year.

Recently, a "fact finder" from the State Employment Relations Board recommended the health insurance premiums and the compensation for those who opt out of the coverage. However, it also recommends a 2 percent wage increase after years of pay freezes.

Bica said that if either side appeals the fact finder's recommendation, the matter will go to binding arbitration where a different arbitrator would make recommendations that both sides must abide by.

Bica said if wage increases are put in place for the police union, then those increases, too, would be across the board.

Contact this reporter at 330-298-1139 or dsmith@recordpub.com

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anonymous Jan 18, 2013 12:54 PM

I agree the whole country about shot. But why does council mayor not pay their health care but unions have to? And why are they just blaming police, not fire dept and whatever other unions there are. All I know is crime out of control mayor spending money on other things city not going to see. Who runnin street dept. that's big joke. Mayor got his full time position voted in now he on the public employee band wagon. Hey I know lets have council woman build another park! We all feel better. Lol. It will give all little gangtas some where to hang. Leave their dope beer cans instead of my front yard. Lets investigate more on tree lawn parking an how they can get me to pay more tax. Unbelievable where politician want to blame. Everyone else wrong but they got the answer . They never loose pay or benefits.

anonymous Jan 17, 2013 3:28 PM

Did you notice that nothing was said about the taxpayer paying the bill? I do not know of any place else where the employees do not pay something on their Health Care Plan. It is a shame because before President Johnson and his dam Medicare plan Health care insurance was paid for by the company. But Johnson sold everybody a bill of goods that making every body over 65 on Medicare would make health care affordable for the poor. The result was that the cost of health care went up more than 300% the rate of inflation year after year. Now Obama comes out with the same bull crap and Health Care had gone up over 200% since he first mentioned Obama care.

anonymous Jan 13, 2013 10:03 AM

Lol.. You can always tell a politician by the way a news article is written. Do politicians lie ? Does a whale have a water tight blow hole? Yep they sure do! This guy has done nothin but spend money an got nothing for it. This or he is the reasons why unions were created! Have some unions got out of control yes. But when you have a boss that's tellin you its raining and the rain on you're shoe is yellow, there something wrong in paradise.

We all know this city officials have not paid for health care since day one. Ahh whats the use can't fight city hall. All I know is what I see.. City looks like crap, total disrepair. Will we look or even come around like Kent? No. Ravenna is gonna be a rental city, with mayor as the slumlord. What's with new city emblem? Fits perfect. Looks like a hazmat sign.

SB 5. No good. Will take away more rights. What I have today is because of what my fore fathers fought to get from rubber workers an railroad. 8hr work day vs 12 hr day or overtime. The whole thing is deteriorating. Obama care, great. What's this mayor got plans for handling this? Cutting hours so the city part time staff don't work more than 25-28 hrs. So they don't get healthcare and now lose more time/money. It's a joke. This city's politics has always been a joke. Any city worker that takes home a city vehicle to plow his driveway should.......well lets just say Jones didn't even draw attention doing that! Now that's just flat out arrogant. The workers in this country is not what's the issue it politics money power!

anonymous Jan 13, 2013 8:54 AM

This article clearly shows why we needed SB5 and why we didn't need Obamacare. Without SB5, the only way to get workers to pay any insurance premiums is "only if the unions sign off on them." And Obamacare was devastating because "Instituting premiums is something the city has been looking at for years, but officials were previously told that any changes to the plan would make the city subject to the Affordable Care Act."