Hartford Has New Plan For Insurance

Hartford — Retired municipal workers under the age of 65 would no longer get health insurance coverage through the town under a plan approved by the Selectboard this week. Instead, retirees would buy insurance on the state-run health insurance exchange and be reimbursed by the town.

Also under the proposal , the town would drop MVP Health Care, and employees would be switched over to a Blue Cross Blue Shield plan, effective Jan. 1.

The insurance changes still have to be negotiated with the unions during the second week of December in order to be finalized. Hartford has 102 current employees and 13 retired workers under age 65 who have continued on the town health care plan.

Selectboard Chairman Chuck Wooster said the Blue Cross Blue Shield plan is “very similar” to the existing coverage, and Selectboard members anticipate the union will approve the changes. Wooster said employees’ contributions to premiums, currently $118 per month for a family plan, would increase slightly.

In choosing the plan, the Selectboard acted upon the recommendation of the Vermont League of Cities and Towns, which previously found that Hartford has the largest health insurance premium increase next year of all the 215 Vermont municipalities that buy insurance through the league, which acts as a broker.

An early renewal of the town’s MVP plan would have increased costs by 23 percent. Dropping the MVP plan, moving current employees to Blue Cross and reimbursing premiums for pre-Medicare retirees on the exchange means an increase of about 21 percent.

The town spends more than $1 million a year to provide health insurance for employees. Reimbursing the retirees instead of providing health insurance will save the town about $26,000 next year.

Wooster said that as the town continues to develop its 2014 budget, it’s the smaller savings — such as the one from the insurance change — that will add up to lower taxes.

“It’s all numbers like that — you don’t go out and find half a million (dollars to cut from a budget),” Wooster said in an interview.

Selectman Alex DeFelice was the lone dissenter out of six board members present.

“These people who worked for us for many years who are retired are entitled to the same insurance benefits as the people who are working for us, and I will not go along with booting them onto the exchange until the whole town goes into it,” DeFelice said during the meeting.

The state exchange offers a variety of plans from “bronze” to “platinum,” which provide the same benefits but at different costs to the employee. The town’s premium reimbursements to the retirees, which are not taxed, will fully cover all plans available on the state health care exchange, except for so-called “platinum” plans, which would require additional out-of-pocket costs for retirees.

Wooster said the process to secure affordable health insurance for town employees and accommodations for retirees has been “incredibly demoralizing,” as the confusing and time-consuming process has forced the Selectboard’s attention away from other issues.

“This has been perhaps the worst year, but there have been other years in the last half-dozen that have been as close to as bad, and I feel like instead of being able to manage the government in an effective way, we’re managing just to get around health insurance costs,” he said.

“As a Selectboard member, we spend all of our time just trying to manage this disaster instead of being proactive,” he said.

He said he’s hopeful that state and federal health care reforms will help shift the burden away from the town in future years so the issue can “get off (the board’s) plate.”

Maggie Cassidy can be reached at mcassidy@vnews.com or 603-727-3220.