Luzerne County Council debates employee health care contributions

By Jennifer Learn-Andes -
Dobash -

The health care contributions paid by Luzerne County government employees have come up as part of council’s 2018 budget discussions.

Last week, Councilman Edward Brominski proposed non-union employees hired in the future start paying 30 percent. That amount also should be a new target as union contracts are negotiated, he said.

Non-union employees have been paying 10 percent toward health care since 2014.

Most union workers pay 10 percent, but there are exceptions. Some pay less, and a few pay 12 percent or 15 percent.

Brominski’s proposal did not advance because the solicitor’s office is reviewing council’s authority to impose such a change under the home rule government implemented in 2012.

Councilwoman Kathy Dobash has requested another health care budget amendment on Tuesday’s budget work session, suggesting a gradual conversion of all 300 or so current non-union employees and elected officials to a 20 percent contribution.

The elected officials would be the controller and district attorney.

Specifically, Dobash proposes 2 percent increases annually, starting with 12 percent contributions in 2018.

Councilman Stephen A. Urban argued an increase is overdue, saying the implementation of a 10 percent non-union employee contribution was enacted by prior commissioners more than a decade ago.

Payment amounts

This year’s contributions deducted every two weeks for employees at 10 percent contributions: single, $30.27; parent/child, $42.38; parent/children, $60.24; husband/wife, $72.35; and family, $83.25.

The payments run from $36.33 to $99.90, depending on the coverage type, for employees at 12 percent. The range is $45.41 to $124.88 for those contributing 15 percent.

Even if percentages don’t change, employee contributions in all categories except single coverage are expected to rise next year due to increasing costs and an assessment of claims, the administration said.

The county budgeted $11.27 million for health insurance in 2018, an increase of $700,000.

For example, employees with family coverage at 12 percent contributions are expected to pay $103.56 per pay next year, an increase of $3.66.

Contracts vary

Three groups of unionized employees are currently at 15 percent contributions, all represented by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, known as AFSCME, a review shows:

• Court-appointed support staff workers hired after Jan. 1, 2016.

• Residual unit employees hired after Jan. 1, 2014.

• Court-related workers hired after May 1, 2013.

Only two unions still have the option for fixed payments, as opposed to percentages based on actual costs.

Unionized prison employees currently pay flat amounts or 10 percent, whichever is less. However, the prison union will convert to 10 percent contributions in 2018.

Detectives hired before Jan. 1, 2013, pay $100 per month, while those hired after that date must contribute 12 percent.

A binding arbitration decision on their contract, which expired the end of 2016, is expected soon and may convert detectives to percentages.

The county is currently negotiating five other contracts that expire at the end of this year for the AFSCME residual and court-related unions and three unions covered by Teamsters Local 401 — Children and Youth, Mental Health and Developmental Services and Aging.

The county’s Highmark HMO plan is still more generous than many in the private sector but now includes a $500 deductible — $1,000 for family — that kicks in for many services, officials have said. Emergency room visits are not subject to the deductible, but a $100 copay was added and waived only for those admitted to the hospital.

Proposals call for workers to contribute more

By Jennifer Learn-Andes


Luzerne County Council will hold a 2018 public budget hearing at 6 p.m. Tuesday in the county courthouse on River Street in Wilkes-Barre, followed by a budget work session.

Reach Jennifer Learn-Andes at 570-991-6388 or on Twitter @TLJenLearnAndes.

Reach Jennifer Learn-Andes at 570-991-6388 or on Twitter @TLJenLearnAndes.