President Preckwinkle Moves to Reform County Health Benefits

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle today announced a proposal to reform the County’s health benefits, a move that is expected to save more than $2.2 million in next year’s budget and roughly $4 million annually. The proposal would require employees and officials who receive less than full-time County pay to pick up the full share of their health benefits. Those who choose not to will have the option of obtaining healthcare through a health insurance marketplace, accessing healthcare through other employment, or accessing the healthcare plan of a spouse, partner or family member. The change would take place July 1, 2014 to allow individuals time to review their choices. The County estimates that the plan will affect roughly 400 individuals, including Cook County circuit court and associate judges, part-time crossing guards and commissioners for the Chicago Board of Elections. Cook County circuit court judges earn $182,429 a year from the State of Illinois. By law, they also receive $500 in income from Cook County. Judges pay less than $1 each month for their County healthcare coverage – paying a percentage based on their County income and not their State salaries. In contrast, Cook County employees contribute a percentage of their salary towards their health benefits. The average employee with similar coverage pays as much as $112 a month. “We want to ensure that County employees and officials have access to health benefits, but the approach has to be fair and it needs to make sense financially,” President Preckwinkle said. “We’re taking reasonable steps to improve how we manage the County’s benefits.” The County also will require part-time employees to purchase healthcare coverage at the full cost of the benefit. This will result in increased access for some employees and a more equitable contribution for others. For instance, county crossing guards work roughly 10 hours a week for nine months, yet have full-time employee healthcare coverage. This policy also will apply to the three commissioners of the Chicago Board of Elections. “Part time employees should not receive the same benefits as full-time employees, yet pay a substantially lower cost,” Preckwinkle said. “Everyone should pay their fair share, which will help the County rein in health care costs.” The proposal also eliminates flexible spending accounts for roughly 260 judges enrolled in an HMO program. The $1,500 stipend cost the County $288,000 in 2012. The total cost for health benefits to the County is roughly $282 million each year.