HAMMOND | A major overhaul of the city's health insurance program is the subject of a proposed ordinance coming before the City Council on Monday.

Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. said the program is outdated and costs the city $12 million a year.

The proposal creates a single, unified program and mirrors the health insurance coverage the state offers to its employees.

"This is another one of those moves that has to be made — not even a question," McDermott said. "We can't keep operating as though it's 1970 in Hammond, Ind. We have a budget crisis we are working through ... we can't keep giving away health insurance."

If the changes had been implemented last year, the city would have saved $2 million, McDermott said.

The overhaul will standardize what city employees are charged for premiums and out-of-pocket costs.

Employees currently pay different premiums depending on where they work in the city. For example, Hammond Fire Department employees pay $12.50 biweekly for family health coverage in comparison to the $25 an employee in the city controller's office pays.

"We are getting away from that," McDermott said. "We are not going to treat one employee better than another employee. It is something I will not allow anymore."

Under the ordinance, city employees working at least 35 hours a week would have the choice among three plans. Changes would go into effect Jan. 1.

Ed Lomeli, president of the Hammond Professional Firefighters Association Local 556, said the union is open to discussing strategies to minimize health care costs for all employees. Lomeli said the city has yet to give the union the opportunity to share its ideas, which he said could come up during upcoming contract negotiations.

"We understand insurance costs are going up," Lomeli said.

Hammond council members Janet Venecz, D-at large, Dan Spitale, D-at large, Mark Kalwinski, D-1st, and William Emerson, D-4th, are named as sponsors of the ordinance. 

"This insurance plan offers equity across the board for all city employees," Venecz said.

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