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Idaho cities, counties struggle with rising insurance costs

Idaho cities, counties struggle with rising insurance costs

Idaho Freedom Foundation staff
June 20, 2013
[post_thumbnail] Jim Chmelik, Idaho County commissioner, says rising health care costs are a concern to local government.

According to a report in Investors Business Daily (IBD), city and state governments across the country are struggling to cope with the rising cost of health insurance for their employees. In Idaho it appears that city and county governments are struggling with the same matter, even as the federal Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) law is gradually being implemented.

In a report June 19, IBD wrote that local governments as diverse as Dearborn, Mich., Phillipsburg, Kan., and the state of Indiana are all struggling with the issue of skyrocketing health insurance costs.

“I made a point about this during the legislative session earlier this year,” commented Sen. Steve Thayn, R-Emmett. “Rising health insurance costs are eating up state budgets, as well as local school district budgets as well. We need to move to a system of providing health savings accounts (HSA) to employees in this state. When we empower people with money for their health care concerns, we can bring down the costs of health care. As of right now, we’re not doing that.”

Thayn is a proponent of HSAs for state employees. He successfully sponsored an HSA bill passed in both the Senate and House of Representatives that will provide state employees with them.

Health care costs are “certainly one of our greatest problems,” said Jim Chmelik, county commissioner in Idaho County. He told IdahoReporter.com that Idaho County officials are currently drafting budgets for 2014. He and other commissioners remain uncertain as to how to budget for employee health insurance. “We know the rate will increase, but by how much? Will it be a 12 percent increase, a 50 percent increase or a 20 percent increase? We simply don’t know.”

“It’s the budget item that seems to increase every year,” said Leo Marshall, mayor of Salmon. Marshall credits Amy Fealko, city finance director, with crafting budget proposals that met with City Council approval recently but noted that it was a struggle. “I believe the cost increases for employee insurance were in the 24 percent range,” he stated.

Mayor Clay Larkin of Post Falls concurs with Marshall. “We're no different than anybody else,” he told Idaho Reporter.com. “We're in our budgeting process for 2014 right now. Health care is becoming more critical every year. We're constantly faced with a dilemma how much can we afford while still keeping the shop doors open, so to speak.”

For now, how are cities and counties coping?

“We’re giving serious consideration to increasing deductibles for our employees who receive health insurance,” Chmelik told IdahoReporter.com. Larkin said that Post Falls has had to assess higher deductibles in previous years, and suggests that the city may need to again as it looks ahead to 2014.

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