In an incredibly callous proposal, freshman County Supervisor Deanna Alexander called for a study by the county to review dropping health care coverage for the 4,400 current county employees and simply paying the federal fine of $2,000 per employee under the Affordable Care Act. She is suggesting that the county could save $103 million annually considering that the federal fines would amount to $7 million compared to the current county budget of $110 million for health care insurance.
To start with, I find her proposal unethical in the extreme. There is an implied expectation that full time employees are offered health care insurance from their employer. And certainly we’ve heard about employers reducing hours worked per week for their employees in order to avoid provisions in ACA. And there have been rumors of employers doing exactly has Sup. Alexander is suggesting but I haven’t seen any actual proof of that.
Obviously I am not an expert on the ACA but find it hard to believe that it was meant to apply to state and local governments. Of course this couldn’t even be an issue if it weren’t for Act 10. In the normal course of contract negotiations, government employees would negotiate the terms of employment including health insurance coverage. But Wisconsin no longer exists in that real world so nonsense like this can rear its ugly head.
Now, in normal circumstances this would be a joke as well. Employers look at health care costs while setting salaries and wages when making hiring and employment decisions. Most employees who have health insurance look at it as a free perq of the job and don’t know the half of what it costs their employer. But salary or wage plus benefits is what the employer considers as payroll costs. So, how much does it cost your employer to provide you with health insurance? In the past with the exception of a few enlightened employers, this has been essentially a state secret. But this year, if you take a peek at your 2012 W-2, in one of the box 12 (mine is in box 12C), you will see an amount preceded with the code DD that tells you what it costs your employer for your health insurance coverage. It is eye opening (mine is $8,561 and that’s for single coverage).
Where am I going with this? Well I would expect that if an employer is going to drop provisions for employee health care and expect the employee to purchase it on their own, that the employees annual salary or wage be increased to the amount that the employer would save in the cost of health care coverage. This is where Sup. Alexander is grasping at straws…even though Act 10 may technically allow something like this, employee salaries would need to rise to cover the loss of income…that is if the county wants to retain any skilled staff. After the previous cuts to income effected by Act 10, there are very few employees who could take another $8,000 per year hit!
And can the county pay $2,000 in fines per employee and increase wages sufficiently to maintain county services at the same time and still save money?
Side note: considering the Sup. Alexander didn’t seem able to send out emails last week without help or permission…where in hell is she finding the gall to make a call like this?