Compromise was needed
It wasn't surprising when, late last month, the Brewton City Council moved to pass along to municipal employees an increase in family health insurance costs. Blue Cross/Blue Shield (BCBS), Brewton's insurance provider, raised the amounts it was charging the city to the tune of more than 18 percent. Before that, family coverage had cost $604.82, with the city paying $404.82, and the employee picking up the remaining $200. But after the rate hike, the cost of coverage went to $730.82, and the city backed off its portion, voting to pay only $288.94 of the new amount.
That left employees paying $441.88 -- more than double what they had been forking over up to that point.
That sort of thing, unfortunately, happens all the time, as anyone running a business that provides insurance to its employees can attest. And no employer, whether it's a bunch of councilmen, or a boss in an office, likes delivering that sort of news to the people who'll be affected by it. Any increase in the monthly bills -- especially one amounting to hundreds of dollars -- can deliver a devastating hit to working families.
The city went back to the drawing board -- after considerable outcry from its workers -- and hammered out a better deal with BCBS. At the same time, the council's finance committee allocated additional funds to help offset some of the still-increased costs, doing so without tapping into reserves.
That got the employee portion back down to around $280, a bit more manageable.
None of this is perfect, for anyone involved. Employees have a more expensive-to-use plan -- higher deductibles were part of the new deal with BCBS -- and the city is still being charged more than it was in the past, and having to spend more of taxpayers' money in this area.
But this compromise was the right thing to do. City employees are taxpayers as well, and have the right to expect their elected representatives -- who also happen to be their bosses -- to look out for their interests as thoroughly and vigorously as possible. It took a couple of weeks worth of angry phone calls, but they can now be sure that's what has happened here.