The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

October 5, 2012

LEVINE: Escalating insurance costs force city down tough road

By Dave Lobeck
CNHI News Service

— Harsh realities of escalating insurance costs aren’t going away in Clinton anytime soon.

Cities, schools and businesses are grappling with this issue across the nation, and the city of Clinton recently entered the fray with its new health insurance proposal for non-bargaining employees.

Without changes, the city would enter into more financial troubles, which would likely be passed on to the rest of citizens.

So when City Council members proposed changes recently, it came as no surprise that the employees affected by the increases were not happy. City officials weren’t happy when delivering the news, either.

It’s a tough spot to be in, but it’s necessary.

Employees in the private sector have been contributing to health insurance for years, without seeing raises and experiencing layoffs during this recent economic downturn.

Health insurance premiums have risen sharply for employer-sponsored health insurance, according to a 2010 Cost of Living study in Iowa. The report states that the average annual family premium for employer-sponsored health insurance is 34 percent higher than the 2004 average family premium.

It doesn’t seem like those prices will get any cheaper. In the health industry, there’s so many people involved in each step, from selling and buying equipment, distributing medication, to the doctors who provide care. Each person and company involved in each tier requires a price that ultimately gets passed on to the consumer.

There’s one big way to lower costs, and that’s something Americans are not doing well. Making healthier lifestyle choices is the best way to lower health insurance costs, but a disturbing report made public Monday shows the nation lagging behind in this category.

In 2010, about 6.6 percent of adults were severly obese, which amounts to 15.5 million people, according to the study. That’s up from 3.9 percent in 2000. With higher weight comes more possibilities for health-related problems, thus creating a heavier burden on the insurance industry.

Wellness programs, which the city is proposing, seem to work for some cities, but it takes strong leadership and worthwhile incentives for everyone to seek healthier lifestyle choices.  

Public sector employees for the city of Clinton haven’t been immune from layoffs either, but they haven’t had to contribute to higher insurance premiums. And while a few furloughs have been forced for non-bargaining employees, union employees have not experienced cuts in pay.

This is a difficult decision, especially considering non-bargaining employees have received the brunt of cuts and frozen wages directed from the city.

But it’s a starting point, and once the union talks begin, I hope negotiators understand the city’s position, and work to find a deal that won’t hinder citizens in the future just so union employees can have a premium deal.

Weekly picks

Week 4 record — 20-5; Overall: 65-10

• Winners are in bold: Michigan State at Indiana; Mississippi State at Kentucky; Arkansas at Auburn; Buffalo at Ohio; Northwestern at Penn State; Boston College at Army; Virginia Tech at North Carolina; Virginia at Duke; LSU at Florida; Iowa State at TCU; Oklahoma at Texas Tech; Georgia Tech at Clemson; Illinois at Wisconsin; Tulsa at Marshall; Michigan at Purdue; Georgia at South Carolina; West Virginia at Texas; Vanderbilt at Missouri; Texas A&M at Mississippi; North Texas at Houston; Miami at Notre Dame; Florida State at NC State; Nebraska at Ohio State; SMU at UTEP; Washington at Oregon.

Scott Levine is the Associate Editor of the Clinton Herald.