Unions object to cost sharing on health insurance

SEABROOK — The failure of the town’s union employees to agree to cost sharing on their health insurance benefits could result in no contracts and no raises in the coming year.

According to selectmen, after months of collective bargaining sessions with negotiators for the four town employee unions, there’s been a lack of capitulation on the unions’ parts to sharing some part of the cost taxpayers bear for their medical benefits. At a standstill is movement to share premium costs or allow deductibles for medical expenses or co-payments for doctor’s visits and prescription costs.

Employees have not paid a cent toward their health insurance or health care costs since the town went with the Lumenos insurance plan, according to selectmen.

Given that employee medical insurance is a $3.2 million cost in the town’s $20 million budget, selectmen set as a goal in this year that employees pitch in to help pay for the plan that covers 100 percent of all medical expenses as part of their contracts.

Prior to Seabrook going with Lumenos, some of the town’s unions agreed to pay a portion of their premiums of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield plans known as JY and Blue Choice.

However, in 2012, in an effort to lower ever-rising premiums, selectmen looked for a new option, finding Anthem BC/BS’s Lumenos plan. It was projected to save the town at least $750,000 over three years.

At the time of the switch, officials said Lumenos provided the same or better coverage than JY and Blue Choice plans, but at lower premium costs because it’s a high-deductible plan. An example cited was that by switching from the Blue Choice plan, premiums would drop by 34 percent, representing a gross annual savings of $1.1 million.

Lumenos offers family and two-person plans with the first $5,000 deductible and individual plans with $2,500 deductibles. In the current system, employees don’t pay the deductible, the town does, through third-party-administered accounts for each employee.

But the savings anticipated haven’t really materialized. The first year after the switch premiums rose 26 percent. In November, Manzi learned projected premiums would be lowered by about $600,000 next year, not a huge amount but going in the right directions.

Yet, as selectmen contemplate putting together budgets in years to come and listening to taxpayers complain about rising rates, they believe town employees — like most elsewhere — should help pay for their health insurance costs.

With selectmen sticking to their guns as of Monday and with the warrant deadline of Jan. 13 approaching, no union contracts had been settled because of the health insurance and cost-sharing issue, they said.

“We’ve come close with some unions,” Manzi said. “The selectmen had a tentative agreement with the police union, but when it was taken to the members, they rejected it. We appear to be close with the Seabrook Supervisory Employee Union. We’re meeting with them (Tuesday afternoon). We have meetings with other unions this week.”

If the impasse over medical benefits can’t be reached in a timely manner, selectmen said on Monday there would be no new contracts this year, meaning no raises.