MARK KIESLING: County insurance plans need an overhaul

2012-05-28T00:00:00Z MARK KIESLING: County insurance plans need an overhaul nwitimes.com
May 28, 2012 12:00 am

Insurance is among the most important benefits that county workers have.

Whether in Lake or Porter counties, the insurance is one of the reasons people work for the county.

It can be a double-edged sword. School Town of Highland board members voted several years ago to give lifetime insurance to members who had served even only a single term.

That led to a public outcry, and the board was booted and replaced by candidates who campaigned on a repeal of that nonsense.

Now comes Porter County Councilman Jim Biggs, who has said publicly that part-time workers should not be allowed to participate in the county's health insurance system.

What is interesting is Biggs is eligible for county insurance, although he chooses to not be on the plan. When was the last time you heard of a person advocating his or her opportunity for health insurance be revoked?

Unlike Lake County, where some part-time employees such as public defenders get health benefits, Porter County does not give part-time employees the right to participate in the program.

Well, almost.

County Council members and county commissioners, considered by Indiana law to be part-time employees, are eligible.

It should come as no shock to anyone it is the commissioners who administer the program. It comes as no shock to me, I'll say that.

Biggs said he has been told that over the past eight months, there have been 11,633 claims totaling $14.57 million by the more than 1,500 county employees.

That is, he said, almost 38 percent of the entire 2012 general operations budget for the county — that's pretty staggering.

Now frankly, I do not begrudge Lake County's public defenders their insurance. They do a lot of work for little pay, but they also are allowed to maintain private practices.

In Lake and Porter counties, the health insurance plan is self-funded. This means, of course, it is somehow taxpayer-subsidized.

Full-time workers? Sure. They're not getting rich, either, and if you work full time, one of your benefits should be health insurance.

Porter County limits the payout to the first $125,000 of any medical claim submitted, but there was a notorious case a number of years ago in Lake County in which the county ended up paying out about $1 million to an employee who had heart surgery.

"County government simply does not have the recurring revenues with which to sustain this amount of growing liability without pulling revenue away from other programs or responsibilities," Biggs said.

Well said. Especially when it comes from a person who stands to lose his privilege.

The opinions are solely those of the writer. He can be reached at mark.kiesling@nwi.com or (219) 933-4170.

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