Macon City Council narrowly approved controversial changes to the city employees’ health care plan in an 8-6 vote Tuesday night.
The plan, which has been hotly debated among council members during the past few months, incorporates several changes designed to save the city money on employees’ and retirees’ health coverage. Administration officials told council members that the previous plan was costing the city an estimated $200,000 per month.
About 80 people showed up for the council vote. Some left shouting at council members who voted in favor of the plan — Erick Erickson, Nancy White, Lauren Benedict, Tom Ellington, Miriam Paris, Larry Schlesinger, Charles Jones and Mike Cranford.
Those opposing were Rick Hutto, Elaine Lucas, Lonnie Miley, Virgil Watkins, Ed DeFore and James Timley. Hutto tried to get the resolution tabled during Tuesday’s meeting, but his motion was defeated 8-6. Hutto argued that the city still had a month to figure out a new plan before a Sept. 23 deadline corresponding to President Barack Obama’s national health care legislation.
The new plan is scheduled to go into effect Sept. 20. Officials in Mayor Robert Reichert’s administration wanted to get the plan completed before October because the council previously approved about $600,000 to cover the previous plan’s cost overruns for three months.
Tuesday, retired Macon-Bibb County Fire Chief Jimmy Hartley and police Lt. Danny Thigpin told the council they were not happy with the changes.
Hartley asked the council not to rush the legislation, saying the resolution was “full of holes and is a ticking time bomb.”
Thigpin, president of the local Fraternal Order of Police, told council members that police and firefighters would campaign during next year’s elections against any council member who voted “yes” Tuesday.
“We’ll go to every corner, every store to get you out of here,” Thigpin warned.
The plan’s changes call for increased premiums for current employees and retirees. For example, retirees currently paying $337.50 a month for a retiree plus one will now pay $366 a month. When the original health care plan was introduced by the administration a couple of months ago, that number was more than $900 a month before council members asked administration officials to change it.
In addition, the plan drops spouses and retirees who qualify for health insurance if they have another job.
Another controversial point in the plan was the proposal to move retirees over the age of 65 from the city’s plan to Medicare Advantage. The council changed that Tuesday after an amendment was introduced by Jones, who altered the wording to “Medigap” and other open market supplemental health care plans. Many retirees had complained to council members that Medicare Advantage — a specific plan within the Medicare system — failed to cover many of their needs.
During Monday’s council committee meetings, Macon Chief Administrative Officer Thomas Thomas said the switch to Medigap would allow retirees to tailor any one of a number of Medicare options to their specific needs.
In other council business Tuesday, members unanimously overrode Reichert’s veto of a previous council resolution that called for city Finance Director Tom Barber to build up and maintain a minimum of $4.5 million in a reserve account for when the city’s landfill closes in the next several years.
Reichert told Ellington, who sponsored the resolution, that he thinks he can find some funding from the Macon Water Authority and that the resolution could mean a loss of “fiscal flexibility.”
Ellington said he told Reichert that the fund is designed to be a reserve account and that the city needs to start setting aside money now.
Also Tuesday, the council approved the 2010 millage rate of 9.8 mills and passed a resolution to call a special election to fill the vacant seat of former Councilman Alveno Ross, whose resignation became official last week. In November, city voters will decide who will replace him.
To contact writer Phillip Ramati, call 744-4334.